Patty Sengstack, DNP, RN-BC, CPHIMS, can see the day coming soon when patients will never be out of range of their health records. No matter where patients go — a hospital, physician’s office or even a dentist — care providers will be able to instantly access patient records, creating a seamless flow of information and improving care everywhere – a system now known as “interoperability.”
While she believes the system is still moving to full interoperability, Sengstack, chief nursing informatics officer for the Maryland-based Bon Secours Health System, which operates 15 hospitals and long-term care facilities in five states, and former deputy CIO and chief of clinical informatics at the National Institutes of Health, offered some tips to help nurses get the most from informatics today.
Embrace your inner geek
Nurses might be tempted to simply trust IT professionals to design the systems they use. As health technology proliferates, however, nurses — and particularly nurse informaticists — need to be talking with their IT team and vendors, offering help designing, configuring, testing, implementing and optimizing the new technologies. “Nurses are the largest users of health information technology,” Sengstack said. “We don’t want a technology team to design the systems nurses use. It just won’t work.”
Ride the wave
As healthcare technology surges, knowledgeable nurse informaticists will be key to helping nursing fully deploy the advances. To help their practices keep pace, Sengstack advised informaticists to grow their knowledge of informatics.
First, she recommended enrolling in a graduate nursing informatics program. “It’s not taught at the baccalaureate level, nor is the science of informatics learned on the job,” she said.
Secondly, she said informaticists need to keep abreast of the “tsunami of health IT growth.” She recommended bookmarking such websites as HealthIT.gov and joining various nursing informatics professional associations.
Help your neighbors
Nationwide, Sengstack said the U.S. system boasts only about 8,000 nurse informaticists amid a workforce of more than 3 million nurses. For that reason, she said informaticists should take time to help train their colleagues.
Too often, she said, nurses lacking a background in informatics absorb only rudimentary knowledge of the technological tools at their disposal. This creates situations in which they might develop workarounds or simply not use the technology to more than a modicum of its potential, holding back patient care from achieving the excellence it should.
“What often happens is a nurse will complain about a system and come to find out that there is actually a way to do what they want,” said Sengstack. “They just don’t know it.”
Use it, don’t lose it
In today’s healthcare environment, even the most basic tasks of collecting data can provide information which could be employed to improve patient care, she said. And nurses should mine that data to improve outcomes.
“Every click, radio button and field where data is entered in a clinical system is captured in a database just waiting to be accessed to answer the questions to improve patient care,” Sengstack said.