As nursing evolves in the 21st century, few aspects of the profession hold more potential to transform practice at all levels than the use of informatics. While informatics in nursing dates back to the first computers introduced in healthcare settings, the use of informatics has gained steam, driven by the push to make electronic health records the new standard for the sharing and transmission of patient information.
Gail Keenan, PhD, RN, FAAN, has worked in nursing informatics for decades, helping to refine and build systems to not only universalize electronic health records, but also make them more accurate, more consistent and easier to use.
Keenan serves as president and CEO of Healthteam IQ, a company specializing in the HANDS Clinical Solution technology-supported plan of care method, designed to improve the communication of patient information. Since September 2014, she has served as the Annabel Davis Jenks Endowed Professor for Teaching and Research in Clinical Nursing Excellence at the University of Florida College of Nursing, Gainesville.
Q: Tell us about your career journey. How did you come to be in your current post?
A: I received a diploma in nursing, bachelor of science, an MS in nursing administration and PhD in healthcare administration/school of public health, with a post doc in nursing effectiveness research. From my dissertation to the present, I have had a very strong vision for nursing that has kept my research agenda focused and productive. My deep passion for my work, accomplishments to date and ability to work effectively with hundreds of colleagues, including nurse clinicians, nurse scientists, engineers, physicians, computer scientists, administrators, programmers and many others, have all played a part. Although many would describe me as an international leader in nursing informatics, I would describe my interest, passion, expertise, research foci more accurately as representing nursing in the electronic health record, to continuously inform and improve care.
Q: How has informatics, as a subspecialty, evolved through the years?
A: I am not sure and am actually a little concerned about the various interpretations of nursing informatics and the wide variation in content across nursing informatics programs that amplify the confusion. I am always amazed at the skillset colleagues think I have because the term informatics is attached to my work. In my mind, calling informatics a subspecialty is a bit like considering statistics to be a subspecialty in nursing. Instead, I believe my work is best characterized as the employment, adaptation and expansion of data science for the purpose of efficiently advancing nursing practice and healthcare.
Q: How do you believe informatics will change the nursing profession for the better in coming years?
A: Many benefits are beginning to accrue as a result of those who have dedicated themselves to answering research questions that are enabling the collection and utilization of good nursing data to improve patient care. I believe when the dust settles and we are routinely collecting and analyzing high-quality nursing data collected in EHRs, healthcare will be transformed. This is because, for the first time ever we will make the previously invisible impact of nursing visible enabling researchers to continuously support and improve the outcomes of nursing care. Well-researched tools, like HANDS, that collect consistent and meaningful nursing data make it possible to continuously and effectively monitor, analyze and return evidence-based nursing clinical decision support to the point of care or use.
Q: For nurses who understand or specialize in informatics more than others, what are some steps they can take to encourage their colleagues to use informatics to improve patient care and nursing in general today?
A: It is essential for those clinicians charged with selecting, implementing and/or continuously supporting information solutions that work well for nurses to enlist their colleagues to endorse solutions that are evidence-based and are used in the same way across multiple sites.