By Christina Orlovsky, senior staff writer
As computers take on a growing presence in hospital settings,
the need continues to increase for the marriage of patient care and information
technology. Enter the nurse informaticist—a role that perfectly combines the two
most important aspects of health care delivery in the 21st century.
“The role of nurse informaticist has grown unequivocally, for
multiple reasons,” said Patricia Abbott, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, FACMI, assistant
professor and codirector of the World Health Organization/Pan American Health
Organization Collaborating Center for Information Systems in Nursing Care at
Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, in Baltimore, Maryland.
First, computer usage has become more prevalent in both
schools of nursing and in health care facilities.
“When I first started in this field in the 1980s, computers
were pretty novel. They’re not anymore,” explained Abbott, who is also the
director of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). “Now, students
come into nursing programs expecting technology.”
Further, the government has made health care informatics a
priority, which has led to increased funding for facilities that implement
“President Bush called for the development of the personal
health record for all Americans by 2014, and the government has said they’re
going to start rewarding people who are using information technology in health
care,” Abbott explained. “When the government gets behind it, money comes, and
that’s when you start influencing people.”
The most recent example of the need for increased medical and
nursing informatics comes in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane
Katrina—not for those whose lives were taken, but for those survivors left
behind with no medical records and, often, no recollection of what medication
they were taking, their diagnoses or even, in the case of many infants and
elderly adults, who their caregivers are.
“Katrina has made a compelling case for the public, the
government and the health care industry on the need for the electronic patient
record,” Abbott asserted. “We need a skilled informaticist to lead us in that
charge. There’s an increasingly heavy need for cross-trained individuals—nurses,
physicians and pharmacists—who understand both the clinical side and the I.T.
side to marry the two.”
So strong has the need become for nurses to become skilled in
informatics that 18 national and regional nursing informatics groups joined
together in 2004 to form the Alliance for Nursing Informatics (ANI), under the
direction of AMIA and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
More than 2,000 nurses representing organizations from across the country have
gotten together to provide a consolidated forum for the nursing informatics
“This alliance provides the structure and synergy needed to
support the efforts of nursing informatics professionals in the improved
delivery of health care,” said Joyce Sensmeier, MS, RN, BC, CPHIMS, HIMSS
director of professional services. “As more health care organizations develop
electronic health records and technology solutions, nurses who manage and work
in the nursing informatics field have increasingly vital roles in designing and
implementing systems that enhance the safety of patient care.”
These vital roles come various different forms within and
outside of health care organizations.
“There are three major areas where nurse informaticists are
being hired: corporations, academia and hospital industry,” Abbott explained. “A
lot are being hired by corporations, like Cerner and Eclipsys, for positions in
research and development and sales. Who better to sell an information system
than a nurse who also has clinical skills? She can walk the walk and talk the
talk,” she added.
Other nurse informaticists go into education—a field in great
need of informatics instructors. In fact, AMIA has developed an initiative
called the “10x10 Goal,” which aims to train 10,000 health care professionals in
applied health and medical informatics by the year 2010.
Finally, nurse informaticists are being hired by hospitals to
function in the role of systems analysts. Some are even entering upper
administrative roles of chief information officers.
“They are bilingual: They understand the clinical process and
the clinical enterprise, but they also know informatics,” Abbott said.
Whatever a nurse’s role, Abbott asserted that it is every
nurse’s responsibility to climb aboard the informatics bandwagon.
“The AACN has already issued basic core informatics
competencies for the BSN,” she added. “If nurses don’t have that core
competency, they’re really not practicing as a competent nurse.”
Abbott explained that there are numerous ways for nurses to
increase their informatics knowledge, either through self-education, distance
learning or an information technology training program. Participation in one of
the many nursing informatics groups is also an option for nurses who would like
to get involved with other tech-minded health care professionals. Technology is,
after all, where the health care industry is headed.
“I use this quote all the time to students and faculty who are
hesitant about computers: Either you’re a part of the future or you’re history,”
Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing
Health Information and Management Systems Society
American Nursing Informatics Association
Alliance of Nursing Informatics
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