Informatics nurse specialists bridge patients, IT and executives.




In February 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It called for the utilization of information technology among healthcare providers and increased adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems.

To achieve these goals and realize the full potential of information technology (IT), healthcare organizations must employ the expertise of informatics nurse specialists (INSs), healthcare professionals who serve as translators between clinicians and the IT professionals who install these technologies. INSs ensure greater usability of health IT, improve workflow and oversee policy development and regulatory compliance within healthcare settings.

Despite these benefits, INSs are underutilized. Many healthcare organizations are hesitant to invest in retaining an INS due to concerns about cost.

In order to continue to work toward the legislative goals outlined in the HITECH Act, more healthcare organizations must embrace INSs as liaisons between clinicians and information professionals. This can be achieved by educating health leaders about the benefits of INSs and giving INSs a seat at the table among chief technology officers, chief information officers and chief operating officers.

Maximize benefits

Healthcare providers nationwide are installing new technology faster than they can train their staff to use it. INSs are instrumental to the development of these competencies among nurses; competencies needed to advance the quality and safety of healthcare and the delivery of evidence-based practice. Successful technology integration can improve patient outcomes, decrease lengths of stay and reduce iatrogenic events, thereby reducing the overall cost of patient care.

INSs translate the needs of clinicians to help IT professionals develop the most effective tools to enhance their practice. They also help staff and executives maximize the benefits of EHRs, determine best practices and set performance-assessment dashboards.

A seat at the table

Administrators, clinicians and INSs need to work together toward a shared goal of improving patient care while meeting the demands of technology-oriented regulations. INSs who educate staff about EHRs and other technologies must be represented in the health IT decision-making process. They can share assessment tools to evaluate current systems, recommend improvements and explain the positive impact of EHRs and health IT on hospital costs.

From smart infusion pumps and smart rooms to enhanced communication tools, INSs oversee the acquisition, implementation and use of health IT and information systems. Furthermore, these professionals ensure that EHRs are utilized to demonstrate nursing contributions to meeting patient outcomes — ultimately transforming nursing departments into revenue centers.

INSs can also provide security regulation information, such as the HITECH Act provision to strengthen federal privacy and security laws to protect misuse of health information, to ease administrator and clinician concerns regarding patient privacy.

Administrators and clinicians should become more familiar with informatics by establishing clinical partnerships with nursing schools that offer informatics programs. Many healthcare institutions are seeking more collaborative relationships with nursing schools that offer both clinical and educational opportunities. With an informatics focus, these alliances could yield joint appointments for faculty as well as provide clinical mentoring opportunities for the incoming workforce.

The full benefits of informatics will not be realized until these steps toward integrating INSs into the healthcare IT team are completed

Kathleen Hunter, Ph.D., R.N. B.C.; Dee McGonigle, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN; and Toni Hebda, Ph.D., R.N., MSIS, are Chamberlain College of Nursing professors in the Master of Science in Nursing degree program.

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