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As a specialty within the nursing field, nursing informatics combines information technology and nursing science to process data related to patients and assist in medical decision making. Informatics nurses manage large amounts of electronic medical documentation using equipment such as computers and handheld devices. These specialized nurses also evaluate the usability of their information technology systems to ensure they retrieve data quickly and accurately.
Some key aspects of this field include retrieving patient information in one electronic format and manipulating or sending it in another. Other daily tasks in the world of nursing informatics include applying nursing principles to electronic data so that patients are assured the best possible care. In the field of research, nursing informatics adds an analytical component so that patient data is processed in keeping with research projects’ guidelines.
One challenge in nursing informatics is maintaining patient privacy within electronic data transfer. As the medical community moves further into the use of electronic records, the ability to send patient information from one system to another increases. Informatics nurses ensure that all patient data is managed confidentially, regardless of how those data are transferred. Informatics nurses also maintain high ethical standards and prevent misuse of patient data or release without patient consent.
Another challenge is the development of consistent medical chart guidelines and the ability to share chart details among different electronic formats. As technology evolves, informatics nurses must keep the electronic details straight while maintaining the role of the nurse in the process. In particular, informatics nurses require point-of-care technology that’s adaptable and allows for proper assessment and care at a patient’s bedside.
Those who wish to specialize in this field must begin with a degree in nursing and a license to work in the field. Additional training in computer science is required for nurses who wish to transition into nursing informatics. The most competitive candidates have postgraduate degrees in the discipline. Postgraduate degree candidates study computerized health care data analysis, system project management, and the integration of health information and technology.
Nursing informatics education has evolved slowly. Many nursing schools offered information technology classes as electives in the late 1970s, but a focus on computer skills for nursing work did not appear in coursework until the 1980s. In the late 1990s, a group of nursing informatics specialists and academicians developed the set of guidelines that define nursing informatics requirements. Today, these specialists continue to reach for greater consensus regarding definitions for the field and how to develop educational plans for it.
Any given hospital will have dozens or hundreds or possibly even thousands of nurses working with many many patients on an intimate basis daily. That kind of work produces a lot of important and relevant data that can reveal things about the nurses, the patients, and the quality of care at the hospital in general.
That is why nursing informatics are so important. Unfortunately there are those in both the nursing industry and the broader health car management industry that think they are either a worthless waste of time or less useful than advocates would like to suggest. But I believe firmly that a long term commitment to nursing informatics can improve outcomes across the board.