What Is Nursing Informatics? Overview and FAQ

Image of professional woman smiling
Written by Kerry Larkey, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A team of nurses looking at data.

Research shows that healthcare creates a staggering 30% of the world’s total digital data volume. These huge amounts of data become unmanageable for many facilities. Valuable information is easily lost and wasted instead of being used to drive patient outcomes and support evidence-based care practices.

Nursing informatics (NI) is a powerful tool for solving this problem. When technology is used effectively in clinical settings, organizations can reshape big data into actionable information that improves patient care. By engaging nurses in all stages of information technology development — from design to implementation and optimization — your facility can harness nursing data and knowledge to drive patient outcomes.

We’ll discuss what nurse informatics is and answer your most frequently asked questions. From an organizational perspective, we’ll look at how healthcare systems use NI, its importance to facilities, commonly faced challenges, and the exciting future it holds for the nursing profession.

What Is Nursing Informatics?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines NI as “the specialty that integrates nursing science with multiple information and analytical sciences to identify, define, manage and communicate data, information, knowledge and wisdom in nursing practice.” In other words, the field of NI fuses technology with nursing practice. NI specialists are the bridge between the worlds of clinical nursing practice and information technology (IT) and are experts in understanding the needs and capabilities of both.

Information technology is a valuable resource for healthcare organizations and when used effectively, it positively impacts all aspects of nursing, including clinical nursing, management, research, and education. At its core, the goal of NI is to improve patient care and outcomes through data and technology.

The ANA recognizes NI as a distinct discipline of nursing with its own scope and standards of practice. These registered nurses, sometimes called “nursing informatics specialists,” are specially trained, and many hold an American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC) Informatics Nursing Certification.

How Do Facilities Use Nursing Informatics?

NI is needed to collect, organize, and present the information in usable ways. To do this, technology must be tailored to your nurses’ workflows and processes. At the same time, your team must adopt and embrace the changes in practice that technology brings. Here are a few areas where your facility might use health informatics to optimize technology:

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR) Systems — The backbone of NI that allows staff to access and document patient information in real time. Managers pull data from the EHR for reporting to national registries and databases.
  • Data Analytics — Uses big data and reporting to identify trends and patterns in patient care. For example, barcode medication administration scanning compliance rates can be used to improve safe practices.
  • Research — Advances in precision medicine, pharmaceuticals, genomics, and medical research initiatives make this area more important than ever. Requires accessing large amounts of patient data.
  • Patient Safety and Quality — These departments use data to monitor quality indicators and metrics. Improvement initiatives are based on data and track changes over time.
  • Telehealth and Telenursing Enables virtual assessments and remote patient monitoring. This area has seen tremendous growth in recent years.
  • Clinical Decision Support These systems help nurses make evidence-based decisions while working with patients. For example, clinical decision support alerts a nurse to dangerous trends in vital signs and possible drug interactions.
  • Patient Movement and Flow — Tracking patient movement and transfer times within the facility to create more efficient systems.
  • Health Information Exchange (HIE) — Allows sharing of patient data between different healthcare organizations. For example, if a patient transfers from a separate hospice facility, HIE gives your staff easy access to their health information. This improves care coordination but can also raise privacy and security concerns.

Why Is it Important to Organizations?

The adoption of NI can benefit your organization by impacting patient care and managerial operations. Data collected in your facility can be used to promote productivity, efficiency, performance, effectiveness, cost, and value of nursing care. Most importantly, patient outcomes benefit when technologies support nurses in delivering evidence-based care.

Quality improvement programs and compliance with regulatory requirements are often based on nursing documentation. For example, data identifying hospital-acquired pressure injuries is easily pulled from the EHR. The financial value of these outcome measures will only increase as the shift continues from fee-for-service toward value-based payment models.

What Are Common Challenges?

Adopting new technologies isn’t easy. It can be a struggle for many facilities, whether you’re using a new EHR or optimizing an existing one. Solutions are often complex and require input from interdisciplinary teams, including nursing informatics. Process improvement is an iterative process that will require time, testing, and patience from staff. Your NI team must consist of skilled problem-solvers who look for solutions instead of barriers.

Some common areas of difficulty include:

  • Over-burdened workload
  • Poor system usability
  • Safety concerns
  • Privacy and data security
  • Staff training
  • Resistance to change
  • Time limitations
  • Computer literacy deficits
  • Change fatigue

Documenting in the EHR takes up a significant portion of work time for healthcare workers. Using NI to streamline staff’s interactions with technology gives nurses more time to spend with their patients instead of documenting. Poorly designed systems can cause safety problems and lead to widespread nurse dissatisfaction and burnout. Technology must help their work, not make it more difficult.

What Is the Role of Nursing Leadership?

As a group, nurses generate the most data in the EHR because of their close contact with patients. It’s crucial that nursing leadership is involved in decision-making about how technology is used in the clinical setting. Your nurse leaders must have a solid understanding of technology and how nurse data supports patient outcomes and determines value-based care measures.

If leaders don’t appreciate, value, or embrace the use of technologies, NI efforts are doomed to fail. Beyond patient care, technology systems also impact your leaders through human resources, finance, scheduling, and productivity management. Studies show that when leaders maximize technologies, using them to carefully plan shifts and manage their team, the quality of care improves.

What Is the Outlook for NI?

The future of NI is booming. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are bringing tremendous growth and change to healthcare delivery. Informatics will be essential for adapting these technologies to clinical applications.

With telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and virtual nursing exploding in use, it’s more important than ever that these diverse systems communicate with each other in ways that protect patient health information. NI specialists are the champions who help your team harness the power of these advances and customize technology systems to meet your organization’s needs.

Looking for More Ways to Leverage Technology?

We’ve discussed what nursing informatics is and why it’s important to your facility. If you’re looking for more ways to promote the adoption of technology in your team, IntelyCare can help. Don’t miss out on our free nursing management insights that support healthcare managers.