Technology continues to advance in health care, and this advancement means an ongoing demand for nurse informaticists. Through healthcare technology, nurse informaticists enhance patient outcomes, reduce clinical errors, and provide efficient results in clinical procedures for patients and nursing staff.
Nursing informatics is a popular career path for nurses. But even if you don’t pursue a nursing informatics career — or don’t think you’re computer- or tech-savvy enough to do so — you should understand how informatics impacts you, your colleagues, and your patients.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines nursing informatics as a specialty that identifies, defines, manages, and communicates data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice. The essential elements — data, information, knowledge, and wisdom — encompass the concept of bringing data together in meaningful ways.
According to Susan K. Newbold, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN, FHIMSS, FAMIA, Director of the Nursing Informatics Boot Camp available through the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), and a speaker for the Nurse.com Nursing Informatics Certification Review course, meaningful ways include:
- Building information — This process includes taking multiple occurrences of data such as a patient’s vital signs over time and collecting and organizing that information.
- Creating nursing knowledge — Knowledge is developed after data is transformed into information. For example, if a returning patient has their vital signs taken and an abnormality is detected, such as a low heart rate, healthcare staff members can compare this piece of data to the information compiled in their record. This type of information can indicate that the patient may need further testing.
- Working toward wisdom — The goal after the development of knowledge is to impart wisdom. This means integrating and applying knowledge with the objective of improving processes and procedures with patient care.
Nursing informaticists aren’t alone in their contributions to this specialty. Nurses and other front-line healthcare providers help drive information technology, including how it ultimately improves patient care, Newbold said. Because these professionals understand patient care needs and optimal workflow as well as working daily to gather and apply data, they also play an important part with nursing informatics.
Choosing a career in nursing informatics
“Nursing informatics is much more than using a computer,” said Newbold.
The specialty integrates nursing science with multiple information and analytical sciences, according to the ANA.
A familiar point of interest within nursing informatics — and healthcare informatics in general — is electronic health records.
According to the American Medical Informatics Association, nurse informaticists work as:
- Developers of communication and information technologies
- Project managers
- Chief nursing officers
- Chief information officers
- Software engineers
- Implementation consultants
- Policy developers
- Healthcare business owners
In these roles, nursing informatics experts are constantly seeking answers to questions regarding data. Newbold described the types of questions these experts often answer:
- Where do you find needed data?
- Is the data accurate or not?
- Is this the right type of data?
- How do you make the data meaningful and informative?
- How do you turn the data into nursing knowledge?
- How do you take the information to make predictions about patients?
“When I started in nursing informatics, we were so busy worrying about the data and where it was. Most of it was on paper. Now it’s on the computer, thank goodness,” said Newbold. “We’re starting to put it together in meaningful ways. We’re starting to get feedback [and] develop dashboards that tell us how well we’re doing as far as patient care is concerned. That’s the bottom line on why every nurse needs to know about informatics: because we need it to provide better care for our patients.”
The career is certainly evolving. Years ago, nurses might have been more inclined to go into informatics to help implement data systems.
Now, as the demand for nurse informaticists grows, many hospitals and other employers have those systems in place, and nurses and other informatics experts oversee “optimization” or expanding and refining how the data is captured and used, Newbold said.
For example, one of the issues nursing informatics experts are looking into today is the burden of documentation — whether nurses are having to document too much information and how to optimize the process.
“There still is job growth,” Newbold said. “I don’t think as much as when we were in the implementation phase, but skilled people are needed — especially those who have master’s degrees — to work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, [and] education.”
A career in nursing informatics usually doesn’t involve direct patient care. Newbold said that while she does miss aspects of working with patients, she sees her role as a nursing informatics educator as reaching far more patients than she could in her previous roles.
“Our purview is actually much wider now in informatics than it was when I worked as a head nurse on a 40-bed unit or when I worked as an evening supervisor at a 478-bed hospital,” she said.
Certification: Optional but helpful in the job hunt
Becoming certified in nursing informatics is optional, but it gives nurses applying for jobs in the field a valuable edge in the hiring process, according to Newbold.
The certification review course prepares nurses to take the nursing informatics certification exam, but nurses with certification goals are not the only ones who take the review course, she said. Some nurses have a limited background in the field and want to know more about the career or how to get involved in informatics roles in their facilities.
Workforce statistics and meeting the demand
As the need for nursing informatics grows, it’s helpful to understand demographics of the specialty as well as how nursing professionals view and value different aspects of their roles. According to the HIMSS 2020 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey of 1,359 respondents, including nurse informaticists with and without certifications:
- 49% indicated making an annual salary of more than $100,000, which was a slight increase from the 2017 survey (45%).
- 21% reported their salaries ranged from $86,000 to $100,000, while 23% said they made between $61,000 and $85,000 annually.
- 68% worked at a hospital, and slightly more than half of those are employed at Magnet-designated hospitals.
- 51% said they were satisfied or highly satisfied with their current position, and more than 75% indicated they were satisfied or highly satisfied with the career choice.
- 68% did not have a supervisory role, and no one reported to them.
Respondents’ job responsibilities included systems implementation, systems utilization/optimization, systems development, and quality initiatives/reporting.
Other survey respondent demographics included:
- 66% had a postgraduate degree.
- 30% had a master’s degree or PhD in nursing.
- Close to half (49%) of respondents are currently pursuing an informatics certification.
In recent HIMSS surveys from 2017 and 2020, respondents indicated that time, lack of financial resources, and value of certification in the field as primary barriers to certification. That has changed from previous surveys, which indicated a lack of executive support and maintenance of continuing education requirements were key barriers.
The increased demand for nurse informaticists shows how crucial this specialty is to the nursing profession. Their innovation, attention to detail, and data management help create safer and more positive outcomes for patients and nursing staff.
Learn more about nursing informatics through these courses:
Nursing Informatics (RN-BC) Certification Review Course
(13 contact hours)
Prepare for the Informatics Nursing (RN-BC) exam with Nurse.com’s RN-BC® certification test prep course. This online nursing informatics certification review course is designed to fit your personal schedule and timeline and includes the latest nursing informatics certification requirements.
(1 contact hour)
Nursing informatics supports nurses, patients, the interprofessional healthcare team, and other stakeholders in their decision-making in all healthcare settings to achieve desired outcomes. This course provides a better understanding of how nursing informatics and technology impact quality patient care.
Jumpstart Your Career in Nursing Informatics
(1 contact hour)
This course explores the role of the nurse informatician (commonly referred to as a nurse informaticist) and how it has evolved over time. Additionally, the course describes the educational preparation and the certifications available to nurses pursuing this specialty.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2019 and has been updated with new content.