Get in the know about your nurse informaticist

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By Carol Anne Kozik, CAS, MS, FNP

Imagine a gallon bucket three-quarters full with loose Lego blocks. Your job is to sort the blocks by shape and color in order to detect patterns and trends. Every two and half minutes, the bucket is shaken and you begin all over again. Sound like a frustrating and impossible job? This scenario resembles the work of a staff nurse processing information throughout a clinical day.

Nursing informatics can help you and your staff nurses get your Lego blocks—isolated points of data—in order. It focuses on organizing isolated points of data to create meaningful patterns of information and knowledge so that the nurse can efficiently and safely make meaningful, evidence-based decisions.

Understanding the nurse informaticist's responsibilities and understanding a successful informatics system will help increase the time staff spends with patients.

Understanding nursing informaticists

Nursing informaticists use their clinical expertise and their knowledge of information management and technology in order to develop means for nurses to collect, analyze, document, and retrieve patient information. A good informaticist integrates all forms of information and communication in order to create the safest and most efficient process for nursing. They are in the unique position of being able to blend experience in nursing processes with technical proficiency. The scope of nursing informaticists is not limited to computers—nursing information is intuitive, verbal, and written as well as electronic.

As a nurse manager, how can you make the most out of working with your nurse informaticist?

  • Learn the technology. Be a role model in risk-taking and lifelong learning for your staff.
  • Be alert for areas where there is redundant or outdated documentation.
  • Offer feedback. Don’t ever assume that a system can’t do something—many times it is only limited by your imagination.
  • Know what to ask for. Learn the standards that your information should achieve. When transitioning from a paper system to an electronic system, the new system should:
    • Be more efficient than an old paper system
    • Provide safer care than an old paper system
    • Be easy to learn with little or no education

Developing a working informatics system and relationship

When evaluating how easy a system is, consider the usability. Every nursing information system should be user friendly. In addition, nursing information systems should work whenever and wherever you need to process information.

When looking at the informatics system from a clinical perspective important clinical information (vital signs, critical values, alerts and alarms) should be prominently displayed. Related information should be easily accessed; information should be real-time and available in multiple areas. Clinical decision-making tools such as risk identification, reminders, and alerts should be built into the content.

Imagine how alerts on missing weights, pediatric dosing, or reassessment reminders can improve patient outcomes. Content needs to reflect current evidence based practice with links to research and resources.

Consider how the system can enhance your management needs. A good system will trend data for quality monitoring and performance improvement.

Imagine a system that provides you with information on regulatory compliance or real-time patient satisfaction at the click of a button. What if you could identify and monitor core measure achievement or staffing ratios and patient acuities on a daily basis?

A collaborative partnership with your nursing informatics department can lead to a safer, more effective clinical unit and allow staff nurses to spend their time with patients, rather than with the medical chart. That same partnership on a management level can offer meaningful information for unit operations and improvement.

Spend some time imagining a future where everything in the healthcare environment advances nursing practice and patient care. Imagine technologies that reduce error, provide information, save steps, increase safety and promote caring. The next time you think to yourself, “I wish we could ….,”call your nursing informaticist.


Editor's Note: Kozik, is an assistant clinical professor at the College of Nursing Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.