Nursing Informatics: Career Overview
Being in the nursing field gives you a platform to help patients, but if you’re interested in extending your care to a whole facility, you might consider a career in nursing informatics. As a nursing informatics specialist, you’ll be able to assist with health information data and technology to increase nurses’ quality of care. Keep reading to find out more about this impactful career.
What Is Nursing Informatics?
Nursing informatics is an intersection between patient care and patient health information. As a nurse informaticist, you’ll be responsible for many of the tools and processes nurses use daily. Job duties include:
- Designing, creating, testing, and putting into place new or modified information solutions, like electronic health records and communications tools
- Consulting with nurses on how to set up healthcare software and hardware, such as monitoring devices
- Analyzing information systems data to improve nursing services and reduce errors
- Acting as a translator between nurses, system engineers, analysts, or designers
- Creating strategies and policies to introduce, evaluate, or modify healthcare technology
- Developing ways to better ensure patient data security and confidentiality
While more technical than other nursing careers, the main goal of nursing informatics is enhancing patient care. Better information systems and data mean fewer medical errors and better handling of patient data.
How Nursing Informatics Differs from Traditional Nursing
While nursing informatics and traditional nursing have the same roots, they differ in how they touch patients’ lives.
Traditional nurses find themselves face-to-face with patients, using software and hardware devices to keep track of health status. Nursing informatics specialists work towards these same patient outcomes by integrating nursing practices with information and communication technologies to create safe and effective standards of care.
Think of it as the behind-the-scenes work that allows nurses to do their tasks with as much advanced technology as possible, such as interprofessional workflows and communication systems, or detailed electronic medical record (EMR) management.
Nursing Informatics vs. Health Informatics
Another important distinction to make is between nursing informatics and health informatics. Nursing informatics is focused on patient care, specifically by optimizing the technology used by nurses. Health informatics is focused on the administration concerns, such as those surrounding data security and technology compliance standards.
Nurse Informaticist Job Description
So, what exactly does a nurse informaticist do? Overall, you’ll get a good balance between independent work and user-facing support.
A high-level task for those on the job involves evaluating and supporting healthcare technology, whether software or hardware. This means you’ll need to educate, train, and support the nurses who use it on an ongoing basis. It’s also common to project manage those who are also working with you to streamline patient care services, since you’ll have both the clinical and technical experience needed to determine the criteria for success.
What other careers can I pursue in nurse informatics?
A variety of medical settings, from hospitals to health care vendors, need nurse informatics specialists. Nurse vendor representatives, nurse programmers, nurse managers, and nurse communicators are examples of popular informatics careers.
Why It’s Important
Technology is an integral part of any healthcare organization. To stay on the cutting edge, more facilities are recognizing the importance of having a healthcare information technology (IT) professional on staff.
In their 2016 Leadership Survey, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) examined the latest trends in healthcare IT. According to their findings, 95% of respondents “view health IT as a strategically critical tool to help healthcare organizations be successful.”
This is good news if you’re interested in pursuing a career in a critically vital field. The majority of respondents to the survey said this type of role can help with efforts focused on patient care. This includes clinical integration, primary care provider efficiency, mandated quality metrics improvement, and care coordination.
As a nurse informatics specialist, you can help deliver better results by performing tasks such as:
- Policy writing
- Training and supporting system users
- Designing systems
- Quality control
- Project management
- Choosing and implementing systems
Being able to communicate information and understand data can also help improve a healthcare organization’s patient outcomes and allow them to make better decisions.
Nursing Informatics Salary Range
Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t specifically track salary for nurse informatics specialists, the median salary for computer systems analysts—a profession that’s similar in its needed skills—is $88,270 per year.
According to HIMSS’s 2018 Salary Calculator & Compensation Survey, the average salary for digital health professionals is $109,610. This data was sourced from across the U.S. from those who are involved in the direct management, development, or support of health IT.
Don’t forget that a nursing informatics salary will depend on where you’re working and where you live. Tech hubs like Seattle and San Francisco boast the highest average pay, while salaries in southwest and south central states tend to be slightly lower.
How to Become a Nursing Informatics Specialist
It’s important to keep in mind that a nursing informatics specialist needs a unique blend of qualifications and skills, since the role involves computing, nursing, and information science. If you’re interested in this career, first consider if you have the traits outlined below.
While computer skills are necessary to enter the field, the main entry point into this career is with a registered nursing (RN) license.
To become an RN, you’ll need to earn either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an approved nursing school. When researching nursing schools, or technology programs for that matter, look for schools that are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These organizations give their seal of approval on the nursing program a school offers.
However, if your ultimate career plans include informatics, it’s best to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), especially since many employers are now requiring a BSN to enter the nursing profession. This is also typically the minimum requirement for informatics jobs at healthcare facilities.
Undergraduate nursing programs will include a wide array of healthcare and nursing courses, including:
- Nursing research
- Public health nursing
- Nursing practice and theory
- Health promotion and disease prevention
If you want to advance your degree and specialize accordingly, earning a master’s in nursing (MSN) can help. Coursework for graduate education can prepare you for a career that straddles the line between nursing and technology. Some of the classes you might take include:
- Systems analysis and design
- Healthcare database systems
- Workflow in healthcare systems
- Nurse leadership
- Transforming nursing through technology
Is financial aid available?
Government financial aid is the most common, but assistance can come from a variety of sources, such as scholarships, grants, private loans, and PLUS loans. To be considered for aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To better understand how to finance nursing school, read up on financial aid, grants, and scholarships.
Certification and licensing
After you’ve completed your chosen degree program, you’ll then need to become licensed. Nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in order to become licensed in their state.
Once you become licensed, certification is the next step toward becoming a specialist. You can earn certification credentials from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
HIMSS provides 2 certification options for nurses who hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited school. If you have 5 or fewer years of experience, you can take an exam to earn the Certified Associate in Healthcare Information Management Systems (CAHIMS) credential. If you have more experience in healthcare IT, the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) certification demonstrates your advanced knowledge and skill set.
Those who are educated in both nursing and informatics are well-suited to hold several nursing positions. You may find that one part of the job appeals to you more than another. Here are some examples of nursing informatics specializations:
- Nurse vendor representatives are sales-focused and work to showcase systems to customers
- Nurse communicators are in the trenches with nurses to identify computer system needs and help train users
- Nurse managers manage the information systems used by the nurses
- Nurse programmers create the programs that support the technology used by nurses
Continuing education requirements
Most states require RNs to participate in continuing education courses every two years in order to keep their license active. Completing continuing education courses or participating in approved professional development activities are also required to maintain ANCC certification. This is especially important in nursing fields such as informatics, where technology and laws change frequently.
Job Outlook for Nursing Informatics Specialists
Evolving technology and its role in the healthcare field has created a growing need for skilled specialists. Nurses with advanced computer skills and a deep understanding of how technology affects healthcare can differentiate themselves in the field.
While the BLS also lacks specific job outlook statistics for nurse informatics specialists, they expect a 9% increase in opportunities for computer systems analysts through 2026. Recent surveys conducted by HIMSS also found that 79% of healthcare employers plan to hire more IT staff in the future.
Where You Can Work
Nursing informatics isn’t just needed in hospitals or large medical facilities. Other areas of the medical field—public health, pharmacology, and global health—need the expertise and tech-savviness of these professionals.
If you’re looking for a leadership role in nursing, informatics can also afford you that opportunity. Because you’ll be responsible for creating strategies, implementing policies, and ensuring better patient care, specialists can be a great fit for someone looking to move into advanced nursing. According to an HIMSS survey, 67% of hospitals employ a “clinical IT leader” such as a Chief Nursing Informatics Officer.
Organizations with this type of leadership role tended to place a higher importance on health IT than their counterparts, according to the survey.
Even if you’re not ready for an executive level position, there are plenty of roles available for skilled professionals, such as nurse managers, nurse communicators, and nurse programmers.
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