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Guest Blog: Informatics Nurses Help Meet Demand for Healthcare Information Technology Professionals

Toni Hebda, PhD, RN, MSIS, Professor, Chamberlain College of Nursing

Dr. Hebda has more than 30 years of experience in nursing and nursing education and has published more than 15 articles in prestigious nursing journals and handbooks on topics such as informatics competencies, the TIGER Initiative, nursing and information systems and computer-assisted nursing instruction.

Toni Hebda, PhD, RN, MSIS, Professor, Chamberlain College of Nursing

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Technology is a pervasive part of our lives today, but its use by hospitals and healthcare providers lags behind other sectors. This is despite expectations that health information technology (HIT) will help to create a safer, more efficient, patient-centered healthcare delivery system.

Obstacles to HIT adoption include, but are not limited to, costs and a shortage of qualified human resources. The federal government provided resources to address these obstacles through financial incentives for providers that collect and transmit data mandated for Meaningful Use requirements, and grants to create HIT-curricula at community colleges and universities. While the latter will help to supply a portion of the 50,000+ new HIT personnel, a recent report by the PWC Health Research Institute validates that the shortage of HIT personnel remains and that it directly impacts the ability of healthcare systems and providers to implement HIT solutions.

There are also questions as to whether healthcare delivery systems can retain the IT talent needed both to implement Meaningful Use requirements and meet burgeoning needs for other clinical applications. A bigger question is whether the intense, short-term curricula supported by federal resources can fully provide the background, enculturation, and skill sets needed to advance HIT.

Enter the informatics nurse specialist (INS).

A select group of nurses have worked with HIT since its inception; many of these nurses learned their skills on the job and have been known by various titles including informatics nurse. In subsequent years the American Nurses Association (ANA) recognized nursing informatics as a specialty for professional nurses with its own scope and standards of practice. The focus of nursing informatics is the representation of nursing data, information, knowledge, and wisdom but the INS combines nursing knowledge gained from firsthand experience with principles from computer and information science, change theory and other areas to support nurses and other clinicians to improve healthcare delivery and the health of individuals and populations (ANA, 2008).

Nurses who specialize in nursing informatics are prepared at the master’s degree level or above. Chamberlain College of Nursing offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Informatics specialty track for the baccalaureate prepared nurse and a graduate certificate in nursing informatics for MSN-prepared nurses.

As a nurse, the INS is already familiar with healthcare, the culture of healthcare and nursing, the information needed to deliver care and workflow issues, making the INS ideally suited to design and support clinical applications. Some examples of what INSs do include:

  • The design, implementation, and evaluation of information systems and devices that support direct patient care, nursing administration or nursing education
  •  The design and implementation of decision support systems;
  •  Information system training;
  •  Research that can be used to improve HIT or its use;
  •  The design or evaluation of technology and/or websites for ease of use and overall quality;
  •  The development and communication of technical standards and language for data exchange;
  •  Data mining and analytics (techniques that use large sets of data stripped of patient identifiers that can be used to identify trends and support decision-making;
  •  Help develop policy that supports HIT; and
  • The integration and support of technology and informatics into nursing education.

While INS skill sets might be applied to other industries, INSs have actively chosen to use their talents to help transform the healthcare delivery system, support nursing and improve patient outcomes. This choice makes it less likely that they will leave to work in other industries and in some cases they may even choose to stay in a healthcare delivery system already familiar to them which would be a benefit for providers scrambling to recruit qualified HIT talent as needs in this area continue to grow.

For more information about Chamberlain’s Master of Science in Nursing Informatics specialty track, visit www.chamberlain.edu/MSN.

Source: NEWS-Line for Nurses

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