The pandemic-driven technology revolution has transformed the healthcare industry more in the past two years than any other period in history. While some changes represent temporary measures, the rapid emergence of clinician-facing digital solutions is a trend that will likely stick. Regardless of how effective these technologies may be, change is disruptive, and opposing change is a natural tendency that’s hard-wired into all of us — including physicians and nurses.
To mitigate these human-centered hurdles and ensure the least amount of disruption, special care must be taken when designing and implementing new technologies used by clinicians. Nursing informatics is a field that has evolved to bridge the gap between a healthcare organization’s technological systems and its clinical staff. In this new era of digitally-driven healthcare, nurse informaticists play a pivotal role in ensuring the long-term success of new technologies and the physicians, nurses, and staff who use them.
What is nursing informatics?
Nursing informatics specialists have played a key role in managing technological change since healthcare organizations began moving to EHRs. Despite its decades-long history, nursing informatics is a field that has gone mostly unrecognized. Part of this may be due to the ambiguity of how the role is defined. For example, some believe nursing informatics falls under the umbrella of medical or clinical informatics, while others contend it requires its own distinct definition. According to the American Nurses Association, nursing informatics combines “nursing science with multiple information and analytical sciences to identify, define, manage, and communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.”
The day-to-day responsibilities of a nurse informaticist vary depending on an organization’s unique information management-related needs. In general, nurse informaticists play a significant role in designing and building healthcare information systems, in addition to selecting, implementing, and connecting these systems for clinical use. Nurse informaticists can also work in a variety of settings outside hospitals and healthcare systems, including organizations that do not directly treat patients, such as a technology vendor or EHR company.
Because of their unique training both as registered nurses and information technology specialists, nurse informaticists understand how all the pieces fit together and provide valuable insight into how systems should be designed for optimized usability. Understanding how all systems and departments work together within an organization is a critical part of streamlining healthcare operations and makes it easier for providers to focus on what’s most important — their patients.
Bridging the value gap
The need for nurse informaticists has increased significantly as today’s healthcare professionals navigate healthcare organizations filled with largely disconnected technological systems. This need has been amplified further as the systems required to deliver superior patient care have multiplied in response to the pandemic. While digital devices and software solutions can help augment providers’ ability to deliver high-quality patient care, it’s not just about having technology — it’s also about ensuring that technology is properly implemented.
Studies show the negative impact technology can have when the clinician’s perspective isn’t taken into account. For example, in a recent survey of more than 15,000 healthcare workers, almost a third (32.7 percent) reported experiencing frustration with healthcare technology at least 3-5 days a week. The survey also found that frustration with technology was associated with higher levels of emotional exhaustion and poorer work-life balance. The technology wasn’t the reason for burnout – it’s the way the technology was implemented. And that’s exactly where the nurse informatics role fits in – determining how technology can be best designed and implemented to aid healthcare workers, not hinder them.
The benefits of easing technological adoption and use by clinicians cannot be overstated. Beyond alleviating the burden on providers, nurse informaticists also play a crucial role in improving the quality of care and optimizing patient outcomes. For example, one of the many benefits of incorporating technology into healthcare is that it enables providers to glean more information about their patients. This data, however, is only useful if it’s collected, analyzed, and applied effectively, and that can only happen if providers are able to easily use the organization’s EHR system. Nurse informaticists help ensure EHRs are easy for providers to use and optimally designed to fit the organization’s workflow. The less time providers spend navigating inefficient technology, the more time they can spend focusing on getting and sharing the right information about their patients.
More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance for healthcare systems to develop strategies that facilitate effective and efficient implementation of telehealth solutions. Nurse informaticists have played a major role in evaluating telehealth platforms to ensure the technology is compatible with practice guidelines in ambulatory and hospital settings, in addition to helping implement these systems and train providers on how to effectively use them.
Ultimately, a holistic and data-driven approach to patient care and healthcare operations benefits providers, staff, patients, and organizations. As technology’s role in healthcare continues to expand, so too will the role of nursing informatics in helping healthcare organizations adopt, effectively implement, and derive long-term value from new technologies that improve outcomes for patients and providers alike.
Photo: chanut iamnoy, Getty Images
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