Despite the best efforts of nurses and health professionals worldwide, global healthcare systems have significant inefficiencies. Mistakes also happen. 6 per cent of all patients treated in hospitals suffered from preventable patient harm, according to an academic study conducted by The BMJ.
As a field, health informatics, and specifically nursing informatics, aims to transform patient information storage and transmission with the express aim of reducing inefficiencies, decreasing incidences of mistakes and improving the quality of patient care worldwide.
From an industry and a career perspective, health informatics in nursing is growing exponentially, with Precedence Research reporting that the health informatics industry will be worth US$100 billion (AU$144 billion) by 2030, growing at a rate of 12.2 per cent annually. There’s never been a better time to consider expanding your knowledge of nursing informatics, and a great place to start is with an advanced education, such as a Master of Nursing.
What is nursing informatics?
To define what nursing informatics is, it’s important to understand health informatics more broadly, and how it’s currently being applied in the healthcare industry.
What is health informatics?
Health informatics aims to develop technology that can assist with the acquisition, processing, transmission and communication of patient health data and information. Health informatics is interested in information from a wide range of sources, including electronic health records, test and scan results, and insurance information. Accessing, analysing and making sense of this information can be challenging, as it’s often held on a wide array of systems within different institutions, and there are many privacy issues.
Combining the vast web of information that makes up a patient’s medical profile is no easy feat. This is where health informatics help combine many different fields, which can include design, computer engineering, software engineering, bioinformatics, data science, data management, behavioural informatics, artificial intelligence and information technology.
Health informatics consists of seven main types:
- Medical informatics
- Biomedical informatics
- Clinical informatics
- Pharmacy informatics
- Public health informatics
- Nursing informatics
According to the Australian College of Nursing, the Health Informatics Society of Australia and Nursing Informatics Australia, informatics education is essential for all nurses. According to these organisations, “the role of nurses in the digital environment has the potential to not only deliver improvements in efficiency and patient outcomes, but also to facilitate improved consumer and clinician experience.”
Health informatics in nursing
Health informatics in nursing is a specialty that integrates the practice of nursing with other information and analytical sciences, with the express purpose of identifying, defining, managing and communicating patient data. Fundamentally, nursing informatics helps nurses, doctors, patients and their families and healthcare administrators access information to make decisions that ensure the highest possible quality of patient care.
As the single largest profession in health care, all nurses need at least some knowledge of nursing informatics to deliver healthcare in today’s highly digital age. Nursing informatics ensure that the best digitally enabled healthcare is made possible, especially in situations in which outpatient care may be required. Nursing informatics also play a key role in situations where nurse services may be required digitally in remote locations.
According to a survey of nursing informatics experts by the Nursing Informatics International Research Network (NIIRN), the field has five main goals:
- To develop electronic information systems that provide real-time feedback to nurses about their practices and healthcare delivery.
- To evaluate the impact of hospital information technology systems on nursing care and their impact on patient outcomes (to provide safer care and better outcomes).
- To develop systems that support nursing practice decisions.
- To investigate the impact of hospital information systems on nursing care and on nurses’ work practices and workflow.
- To design and manage nursing information databases that can be used in patient management, clinical records and research.
How does nursing informatics improve quality of care?
Nursing informatics drastically improves the quality of care for patients in many ways. It can increase accuracy, streamline medical processes and improve communication, among other benefits.
10 ways nursing informatics improve quality of care include:
- Reducing mistakes
- Improving information flow
- Improving patient record storage
- Empowering patients
- Saving time
- Improving healthcare marketing
- Improving monitoring
- Increasing accuracy
- Reducing data breaches
- Improving communication
When mistakes happen in health care, it can be extremely costly for several reasons. First, patients can be harmed; second, procedures or treatments need to be repeated or changed; and finally, patients and their families may launch legal proceedings.
Nursing informatics technologies such as a clinical decision support system (CDSS) can help nurses make important decisions and reduce mistakes (and hence reduce costs). Such technologies do, however, require skilled nurses who can use them effectively and interpret the information to provide the highest quality patient care.
While health care used to be provided in silos, now it’s more coordinated, with patients able to keep track of their own health status and medical professionals able to check the records of different patients from numerous different health specialties. As a result, patients are now able to see medical professionals from multiple fields in one visit.
This is all made possible by nursing informatics, and it vastly improves the quality of care patients are provided. Health professionals can access, share and disseminate records more easily and with fewer mistakes, as notes can be shared about special cases, discharge instructions, additional referrals and preventive healthcare.
Previously, major medical facilities stored patient records in filing cabinets. When records are stored in this manner, it can take hours, or even days, for medical staff to thoroughly access information, potentially leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment. It can also take a long time to update information and share treatment details.
Nursing informatics enhances the quality of care by ensuring that patient records are stored electronically and that such records can be securely shared and accessed. This reduces nurses’ workloads and the likelihood of delays or errors.
Health care can be confusing for patients, especially when they aren’t able to access their own information or remember or make sense of past diagnoses or issues. Nursing informatics can help change this by giving patients access to their entire medical history, including past treatments, and ensuring that patients can easily access data from anywhere at any time to share with medical professionals.
When patients have access to their medical history, they’re also able to keep track of medications and symptoms much more easily, as well as reach the right healthcare experts.
5. Saves time
When nurses treat patients, they need to be aware of things like contraindications (symptoms or medical conditions interact badly with particular treatments). Looking up manual records and trying to understand contraindications with disparate information can take a lot of time.
For this reason, nurse informatics – and in particular, the automation of certain medical tasks, such as a warning for treating medical professionals about contraindications – can save time, and hence improve the quality of patient care.
It’s only natural that patients may feel concerned or scared regarding certain medical treatments. However, nursing informatics can help ease patient concerns by providing them with the full picture of what their treatment may be, how it might affect them and whether it’s the right decision for them.
For example, explainer videos and other digital information can be pivotal in helping patients and their families understand treatments and what their experiences might be.
An important innovation, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), is having a profound impact on patients and their quality of care and serves an important function within nursing informatics. IoMT comprises medical devices that can communicate over a network, such as wearable monitors.
Patients visiting a doctor or a nurse receive the care they need, but it isn’t always possible to visit, especially in certain circumstances, for example, during a pandemic or if a patient lives in a rural area. For this reason, devices can help doctors and nurses monitor and treat patients, and also enable patients and doctors to save important travel time.
When performing surgeries, doctors and nurses inevitably make mistakes, and these mistakes can, unfortunately, cost lives.
With the advancement of technology, robot surgeons can perform certain surgeries (using a combination of engineering and information technology), greatly reducing the risk of error when operating on patients. This development is yet another important function within nursing informatics, as it reduces the need for nurses to be as involved in surgeries as they may have been in the past, hence increasing the quality of care they can provide.
A patient’s private medical data is deeply personal, and when stored manually or even digitally in some places, the potential for data breaches exists. When confidentiality is so important, this is a critical issue.
However, it’s one that nursing informatics can solve. Blockchain technology has led to considerable advances in the privacy and security settings of digital health records, which have enhanced patient confidence that their information will be stored securely.
Within health care, administrators and operations staff, such as receptionists and analysts, play a vital role in managing patient appointments, admissions, reporting on subsidies and rebates and much more.
Nursing informatics, such as the availability and transparency of appointment information, can help nurses better communicate with these professionals, and hence provide patients with a better quality of care, by understanding when patients are coming in and what rebates they may be eligible for.
Examples of nurse informatics
Nursing informatics is rapidly transforming many elements of nursing and creating vastly improved patient outcomes. Here are four examples of nursing informatics.
Nursing informatics has changed nursing practice in Australia for the better, especially when it comes to electronic health records, such as the Australian government’s official My Health Record. Computer systems that contain nursing and patient care data are no longer held separately but are contained within central hospital information systems, alongside other patient information from treating practitioners, as well as test results.
Having interdisciplinary information all in one place enables nurses to better monitor and treat patients, as well as assess issues, track the care process and measure outcomes.
Nursing informatics within hospitals has also revolutionised nursing administration in Australia. In particular, the introduction of records that link nursing departments together has helped to provide vastly improved patient outcomes.
The reason for this is that policies and procedures can be held and accessed from one central place, as can case management information, acuity systems, up-to-date research and other essential information.
Nursing informatics has transformed nursing education and enabled Australian nurses to access information on best practices and the most up-to-date care.
In the past, nurses had to rely on theory, and then tentatively practice on patients. With advances in technology, nurses can now watch videos and virtually shadow other nurses from all over the world. They can also access data on care models and can retrieve a wealth of information from reputable online sources in real time.
Nursing education has faced a multitude of barriers in the past, for example, nurses in remote locations may not have been able to attend practicals or see nursing in real life. However, digital options have meant that nurses everywhere can access the same high-quality education.
Nursing informatics provides nurses in Australia with invaluable information about nursing practice, especially when it comes to the latest research.
Computer programs can help nurses amalgamate and make sense of huge swathes of nursing research online to find the most up-to-date studies and practice models that may apply to their specific situation. They can also access proprietary information, for example, the latest recommendations in medication and how this should be administered, all according to evidence-based practice.
Careers for nurse informatics professionals
Nursing informatics is a fascinating field within nursing, and nurses can enter a number of specialist roles that can help them work (and advance) in this exciting field.
Nursing informatics specialist
One nursing role that’s directly involved with nursing informatics is nursing informatics specialist. In this technical role, nurses help analyse data to improve patient care and also help their healthcare facility select, implement and monitor new technology.
Specifically, nurse informatics specialists do the following:
- Advocate for patients by taking steps to improve outcomes and safety.
- Use data and technology to monitor systems, programs and patient care initiatives.
- Analyse data to see what is and isn’t working.
- Research, develop and implement new nursing-based informatics technology.
- Gather feedback from nursing staff and use the data to monitor results.
- Support and train other nursing staff.
- Manage nursing technology projects.
Another role that deals directly with nursing informatics is clinical analyst (also known as clinical systems analyst or clinical data manager). Nurses in this role manage computer systems and help to optimise workflows.
Clinical analysts do the following:
- Design, develop and implement computer systems, databases and software that store and manage clinical and patient data.
- Process clinical data, including entering, verifying, organising and protecting it.
- Analyse clinical data to optimise workflows, including ensuring that technical documentation and reports are processed correctly.
- Train nurses and other relevant staff on how to use nursing-related systems and how to capture data effectively.
- Train data technicians on technical processes to maximise efficiency.
- Perform regular system upgrades and continuously perform quality and equipment checks.
- Effectively communicate with medical staff to determine data analysis requirements.
- Develop and prepare training programs, tools and operating manuals.
A career as a clinical coordinator is another option for nurses who are passionate about nursing informatics. Clinical coordinators are responsible for overseeing the operations of the hospital or facility that they work in, including operations, as well as communications between different departments. Ensuring a high quality of patient care is also one of their duties.
Clinical coordinators do the following:
- Implement the policies and procedures of their healthcare facility.
- Evaluate nurses and prepare reports.
- Assist with recruitment, screening, testing and enrollment of new nurses.
- Assist with budget management, including rostering and expenditure tracking.
- Ensure that stock levels are adequate, and order new stock as required.
- Prepare reports on operations, staffing, and others by request.
- Communicate medical results with patients.
- Sterilise instruments.
- Complete documentation and enter data.
Nursing informatics is revolutionising nursing
The profession of nursing is transforming in large part due to the innovations now available courtesy of nursing informatics. As a nurse, it’s important that you understand the growing field of nursing informatics and the impact it’ll have on not only your career but also the quality of patient care now and in the future.
Expand your understanding with JCU’s 100% online Master of Nursing, which includes a subject focused on nursing informatics. Experience flexible, accelerated study and enhance your nursing career.
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