Nurses are being called on to lead efforts to achieve the “triple aim” in healthcare: better patient outcomes, improved population health and reduced costs. Nurses provide the majority of hospital patient care, and they may be in the best position to take healthcare to higher levels. It is a tall order, but informatics can help.
RNs can advance their informatics skills through higher levels of education. For example, the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Nursing Administration online program at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) provides coursework in informatics. The course emphasizes the use of information systems for clinical decision-making.
UAH’s program aligns with American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) competencies. These include providing leadership in information management and technology.
What Is Nursing Informatics?
“Big data” may be a buzzword, but in nursing informatics, data is indeed abundant. Electronic health records (EHRs) are a primary source of that data. Nursing informatics is about how nurses use data from EHRs and other sources in their practice.
Applied to healthcare, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) defines “informatics” as “the science of how to use data, information and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services.”
Healthcare informatics and nursing informatics overlap, but they are not interchangeable. Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) describes nursing informatics as a subset of healthcare informatics, which deals with the management of healthcare information. Nursing informatics focuses on the patient-care side.
How Can Informatics Competencies Help Nurse Leaders Succeed?
Nursing informatics plays a key role in today’s healthcare transformation. But the foundation of nursing informatics is said to date back to Florence Nightingale.
In “A Brief History of Nursing Informatics in the United States of America,” authors Ozbolt and Saba, both RNs, recall a passage from Nightingale’s Notes on Hospitals. It describes her unsuccessful attempt to find hospital records “fit for any purpose of comparison.”
If they could be obtained … these improved statistics would tell us more of the relative value of particular operations and modes of treatment than we have any means of obtaining at present. They would enable us, besides, to ascertain the influence of the hospital … upon the general course of operations and diseases passing through its wards; and the truth thus ascertained would enable us to save life and suffering, and to improve the treatment and management of the sick.
Today, 95% of all hospitals use EHR technology, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Hospitals are also the largest employer of RNs, creating an opportunity for impact.
The Commonwealth Fund provides a snapshot of ways that can happen:
- EHRs can enhance the quality and safety of care by automating tasks such as medication reconciliation.
- EHRs promote population health by enabling providers to review care and outcomes for a group of patients and to facilitate coordination of care.
- With the availability of real-time data, EHRs can prevent duplication of testing and reduce costs.
- EHR systems can improve care quality and lower costs with clinical decision support tools that improve efficiencies and decision-making. Alerting providers to harmful medication interactions is one example.
Nurse leaders with informatics skills can pick up where Florence Nightingale left off, leveraging information to “save life and suffering, and to improve the treatment and management of the sick.”