Advanced technology plays a vital role in the modern healthcare sector: It determines how patients are assessed, diagnosed, and treated and plays heavily into billing, patient privacy, creating and evaluating quality benchmarks, and everything else that keeps facilities running smoothly. Healthcare informatics underscores all this, with nursing informatics particularly promising to dramatically improve outcomes throughout the industry. Keep reading to learn what nursing informatics is and why it’s such an important component of the modern healthcare sector.
What Is Nursing Informatics?
Nursing informatics is a complex and far-reaching field that incorporates elements of several important fields and practices. It can be difficult to define, partly because the technology that underscores this field is constantly evolving. At its most basic level, however, this unique niche exists at the intersection between nursing, information science, and computer science.
The American Nursing Association (ANA) defines nursing informatics as the integration of “nursing science with multiple information management and analytical sciences,” with the ultimate intention of identifying, managing, and communicating the wealth of data that is vital to the successful practice of nursing.
This concept has existed for decades, marked, in part, by the founding of the Capital Area Roundtable on Informatics in Nursing (CARIN) in 1982. Now known as the American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA), this organization was originally formed with the intention of advancing the discourse surrounding the utilization of “automated healthcare information systems.”
Since then, the concept of nursing informatics has evolved considerably. Results from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2020 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey indicate that this field is quickly growing and, in many cases, is regarded as distinct from clinical care.
This separation underscores the value of informatics as its own niche, in which dedicated professionals focus on electronic records and point-of-care clinical decision support (CDS). These professionals often report to information technology (IT) or information science (IS) departments, although their overlap with nursing practice remains vital.
Despite recent shifts, there is still a clear emphasis on driving positive patient outcomes through an understanding of what is needed in the nursing field and where improvements can be achieved in nursing practice. Driven by a research-backed, tech-oriented approach, this application of informatics can be downright powerful.
Why Is Nursing Informatics So Important?
There’s no denying that the modern medical sector goes far beyond clinical care alone. Data now plays a vital role in everything from patient care to practice management. Yes, medical professionals have long gathered and reported on vast quantities of data, but new technological tools and systems have expedited this process and produced a wealth of information. A report from JD Supra suggests that the healthcare sector now produces an astounding 19 terabytes of clinical data per year — and the pace of data is only set to increase as machine learning, biometrics, and other revolutionary solutions take over.
Without a structured approach to gathering and analyzing this newfound abundance of data, today’s vast technological capabilities will do little to improve patient outcomes — and could even prove damaging if mishandled. Data privacy, for example, is a huge concern these days, with the HIPAA Journal revealing that violations run rampant. Efficiency is also a priority, with nursing informatics specialists applying research-backed principles to optimize workflows, prevent bottlenecks, and boost standards of care.
Benefits of Nursing Informatics
Nursing informatics is a vital niche with many advantages for both individual professionals and the healthcare sector as a whole. The overarching benefit, while simple, is exciting — using the power of data to drive significant improvements in healthcare in its delivery, outcomes, and societal impact. Beyond this, it’s abundantly clear that nursing informatics has the potential to produce a myriad of noteworthy benefits, several of which are outlined in detail below.
Advancement of IT Systems
IT adoption has dramatically accelerated these last few years, driven, in part, by the availability of new technological solutions and the creation of dedicated informatics roles. While clinical positions increasingly incorporate high-tech solutions, it often takes a greater understanding of the technological components of nursing to reveal where opportunities for improvement exist.
Therein lies the value of employing informatics specialists with a blend of advanced tech skills and insight into nursing practice. These professionals are perfectly poised to address today’s top IT challenges, such as data integration across a wide range of sources, along with regulatory compliance and the fast-paced adoption of telehealth solutions. Informatics specialists also hold the power to address the growing healthcare digital divide, in which some demographics see greater benefits from healthcare technology than others.
Evidence-Based Clinical Decision-Making and Best Practices
The average clinician makes hundreds of impactful decisions every day. Many of these are guided by a blend of experience, research, and intuition. These decision-making parameters remain important, but they can be amplified by high-tech systems that improve access to relevant data when and where it’s needed most. By optimizing electronic health records and the general flow of information, nursing informatics increases the likelihood that everyday clinical decisions will be backed by solid evidence.
Point-of-care clinical decision support represents one of the most impactful functions in modern nursing informatics. Clinical decision support systems (CDSS) augment this process by applying targeted patient information and general clinical knowledge. As a report published in the peer-reviewed journal npj Digital Medicine explains, CDSS allows “characteristics of an individual patient [to be] matched to a computerized clinical knowledge base,” adding that “patient-specific assessments or recommendations are then presented to the clinician for a decision.”
This revolutionary approach provides the best of both worlds: the power of human insight and intuition combined with instantaneous access to a wealth of information. These versatile systems are administered through a variety of applications and devices, which are often linked to EHR databases to expand access to relevant data. The scope of functions encompasses diagnostics, drug control, disease management, and so much more.
While limited data is currently available to inform us of the true impact of these systems, success stories abound. What’s more, early evidence suggests that these solutions may decrease medication errors and improve compliance. Success relies on implementation and oversight from informatics experts, who understand how these systems can improve nursing practice — and where potential challenges may arise.
Improves Operational Processes
Electronic systems can promote exceptional communication and greater efficiency, but only if they’re properly implemented and maintained. This means establishing strategic workflows designed to limit bottlenecks. Nursing informatics specialists may be responsible for assessing and implementing methodologies such as Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC), or Lean Six Sigma. For example, they may apply a data-driven approach to discharge management to ensure that bed availability is maximized even amidst labor shortages.
Reduces Risk of Errors
Medical errors have long represented one of the greatest sources of illness, injury, and even fatality in the healthcare profession. Many of these issues are entirely preventable, and yet, despite years of training and extensive oversight, professionals continue to make devastating mistakes. Unfortunately, no amount of training or education can entirely resolve the potential for human errors, which become even more likely as staffing shortages prompt greater stress and longer hours.
Nursing informatics promises to mitigate this problem by identifying the circumstances under which errors are most likely — and the creative solutions that can reverse these issues. Often, this means implementing automated systems or other tech initiatives that remove common sources of human errors. For example, biometric solutions allow for the more timely and accurate gathering of patient vitals, while automated solutions ensure that these details are entered properly. Meanwhile, opportunities such as barcode medication administration (BCMA) can limit the potential for dangerous medication errors.
Better Communication Between Organizations
Data silos are a huge problem in the healthcare industry. Professionals have become adept at amassing a wealth of data, but this doesn’t always reach the appropriate parties when and where it’s required. Nursing informatics optimizes the flow of such data to promote actionable insights and measurable improvements through all stages of the patient lifecycle.
Often, this plays out with medical records — how they promote the efficient gathering of information while also ensuring that extracted data promotes creative and impactful solutions. Informatics allows takeaways to be effectively communicated horizontally instead of constantly being siloed within individual departments. This can promote greater efficiency and improved outcomes throughout the continuum of care. Along the way, of course, informatics solutions must ensure that all communication remains compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Nursing informatics also plays into communication beyond specific healthcare providers and facilities. Experts at JOJ Nursing & Health Care anticipate that nursing informatics will take on a more important role within insurance agencies and public health organizations. In both contexts, nursing informatics specialists can improve communication between organizations while also synthesizing critical data and educating everyone, from patients to policymakers.
Superior Outcomes for Patients
The aforementioned benefits coalesce to provide higher standards of patient care, and ultimately, better outcomes in all areas of the healthcare sector. The potential for fewer medical errors is especially compelling, but this is just one of many ways in which patients can benefit from the widespread adoption and promotion of nursing informatics. Enhanced documentation allows providers to gain valuable takeaways from patient interactions and outcomes, thereby facilitating process improvement on a long-term basis.
Informatics can also deliver improvements in preventative care, which many refer to as the next frontier for healthcare providers. Initial research suggests that digitization can make a world of difference not only for clinical concerns, but also, for elevating health promotion and disease prevention in non-clinical settings.
As mentioned previously, findings suggest that informatics can lead to reductions in medication errors and other improvements in patient care. While additional research is needed regarding the impact of informatics from the patient’s perspective, results from a 2022 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research are promising. This assessment of the adoption of health information technology (HIT) suggests that user-friendly digitization can lead to noteworthy improvements in patient satisfaction.
Nursing Informatics at Post University
If you’re intrigued by the intersection of information technology and patient care, you could be a wonderful candidate for pursuing a data-driven, informatics-oriented program at the graduate level or doctoral level. We offer multiple options at Post University, including a master’s in nursing informatics specialization and a DNP nursing informatics specialization. Reach out today to learn more about our cutting-edge nursing informatics programs and the vital skills they could help you develop.
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