What is Nursing Informatics?

Nursing informatics is a unique hybrid nonclinical nursing specialty that integrates the science of nursing with information management and communication technologies. The resulting discipline focuses on creating and implementing innovative information systems that promote the health of people, families, and communities to support healthcare practitioners in providing patient-centered care.

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Informatics is a science—driving innovation and influencing how we manage information and knowledge at many stages during the continuum of care, including nursing care. The purpose of informatics is to find new and effective ways to organize, store and analyze large amounts of patient data. Professionals in informatics are motivated to create new solutions that improve accessibility and disseminate useful information to healthcare practitioners at all levels with the ultimate goal of improving the quality and safety of care.

The science of informatics draws from a number of disciplines, including computer science, information science, organizational theory, management science, and cognitive science, among others, and employs natural language/text processing, data mining and elements of human interface design to draw something useful and easily understood from large data sets.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of Nursing Informatics

Nursing informatics is a discipline-specific informatics practice aimed at combining nursing science with information management in an attempt to define, manage, identify, and communicate information, data, and knowledge in the practice of nursing. Nursing informatics supports consumers and patients by helping nurses and the entire interdisciplinary healthcare team draw meaningful information from massive data assets so as to achieve optimal outcomes.

Nursing informatics has become a well-established practice since being recognized as a specialty by the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 1992. According to the ANA, nursing informatics accomplishes or otherwise helps support a number of functional goals:

  • Policy development and advocacy
  • Compliance and integrity management
  • Educational and professional development
  • Consultation
  • Administration, leadership, and management
  • Research and evaluation
  • Analysis
  • Coordination, facilitation, and integration
  • Development

The Scope and Job Description of a Nurse Informaticist

Nurse informaticists work with a wide range of professionals in interdisciplinary healthcare environments, interacting with IT analysts and database administrators just as often as with nursing staff and leadership during all phases of a system’s lifecycle.

In all cases, the job desciption of nurse informaticists includes:

  • Utilizing scientific and informatics principles to employ creative strategies for meaningful informatics solutions
  • Establishing the direction of large-scale informatics solutions
  • Serving as the catalyst for the development of strategic plans and the creation of system policies and procedures
  • Overseeing the resources and activities for all components of the system’s lifecycle, which include supporting all facets of nursing and healthcare delivery by:
    • Analyzing
    • Developing
    • Designing
    • Selecting
    • Purchasing
    • Testing
    • Implementing
    • Evaluating

Nurse informaticists work as developers of communication and information technologies. As such, they may serve in any number of different roles:

  • Educators
  • Researchers
  • Chief nursing officers
  • Chief information officers
  • Software engineers
  • Implementation consultants
  • Policy developers

As such, they are expected to master skills that inlcude:

  • Superb communication skills
  • Change management skills
  • Risk assessment skills
  • Coalition building skills
  • Business acumen
  • Strategic application knowledge
  • Leadership and management skills

Nurse informaticist jobs may include working as:

  • A nurse informaticist for a major hospital system
  • A project director for a clinical software company
  • A grants administrator for an information science research agency seeking and writing grants to fund nursing informatics-related projects
  • A quality assurance analyst working with nurse manages to revamp an existing system

In addition to the many specialized job titles under the nursing informaticist umbrella, the different environments in which these professionals work is also quite varied. While nursing informatics was focused nearly exclusively in the hospital setting in the past, it is quite commonplace for nurse informaticists to now work in such diverse settings as:

  • Home health and hospice agencies
  • Nursing homes
  • Public and community health agencies
  • Physician offices
  • Ambulatory care centers

A large number of employers outside of the clinical setting also value the work of nurse informaticists:

  • Medical device vendors
  • Software companies
  • Web content providers
  • Disease management companies
  • Government agencies

How to Become a Nurse Informaticist: The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Informatics

Historically, nurse informaticists were either formally prepared at the graduate level in informatics or a related field or were nursing generalists who gained experience in the field without educational preparation at the graduate level in an informatics-related area.

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However, the American Nurses Association (ANA) reports that the era when clinical nursing practitioners simply transitioned into informatics without formal, graduate level education is at its end. Today’s nursing informatics practice is complex and therefore requires graduate-level preparation for all nurses working in the field.

The standard minimum education required to become a nurse informaticist is a master’s degree in nursing informatics. The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Nurse Informatics allows students to develop knowledge and skills in clinical information systems, strategic planning, project management, and in the use of relevent software and technology.

These programs prepare graduates to enhance the quality of patient care and outcomes by developing, implementing, and evaluating electronic information systems. The curriculum and applied learning activities of MSN in Nurse Informatics programs prepare students to successfully:

  • Analyze nursing data
  • Design system alternatives
  • Manage information technology
  • Identify and implement user-training strategies
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of clinical and/or management information systems

Coursework in an MSN in Nurse Informatics often includes a nursing core consisting of study in health promotion, statistics, evidence-based practice, global health, and advanced nursing roles, as well as a nursing informatics core, which consists of courses such as:

  • Database systems in healthcare
  • Health information exchange standards, methods, and models
  • Data analytics
  • Health information technology leadership
  • System design, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance

In addition to didactic coursework, an MSN in Nurse Informatics includes an intensive practicum designed to provide students with real-world experiences in nursing informatics. Practical experiences allow students to observe, apply, analyze, and practice processes and skills relevant to the study of informatics.

Admission Requirements

Admission into an MSN in Nurse Informatics program requires, at a minimum, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a current and valid registered nurse (RN) license. Many of these programs also require candidates to possess a minimum undergraduate GPA, minimum GRE scores, and clinical experience.

It is commonplace for institutions to require candidates to submit letters of recommendation and sit for admissions interviews, as well.

MSN Nurse Informatics Program Options

Online Programs

MSN Nurse Informatics programs have become synonymous with flexible schedules designed to accommodate most working professionals. Many of these programs are now offered in partially or fully online formats, which allow students to complete all or some of their coursework requirements through web-based study. Online experiences in these programs include interactive, online classrooms, which provide students with plenty of opportunities for active learning, problem solving, debating, and networking.

Students often receive individualized attention from faculty advisors, communicating regularly through telephone and email formats. They also help students arrange for a practicum in their desired area.

Alternative MSN Degree Programs

In addition to traditional MSN programs, many institutions have begun offering alternative MSN programs that appeal to candidates with an Associate Degree in Nursing or that otherwise come from different educational backgrounds:

  • RN-to-MSN Degrees: RN-to-MSN degree programs enable RNs with associate’s degrees in nursing to enter an MSN program without first completing their BSN. These programs combine the components of both the BSN and MSN in an accelerated format.
  • Direct-Entry MSN Degrees: Direct-entry MSN degree programs allow candidates with bachelor’s degrees in an area other than nursing to enter an MSN program, where they earn their RN license and then go on to complete the MSN program.

Professional Certification in Nursing Informatics

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers professional certification in Informatics Nursing (RN-BC). To qualify to take the RN-BC exam and become a certified informatics nurse, candidates must possess:

  • A current and active RN license
  • A bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing in a relevant field
  • At least two years of full-time practice as an RN

Candidates must also meet one of the following practice hour requirements:

  • Must have completed at least 30 hours of continuing education in informatics nursing in the past three years; OR
  • Must have completed at least 1,000 hours in informatics nursing in the past three years AND have completed at least 12 semester hours of academic credit in informatics courses that are part of a graduate-level informatics nursing program; OR
  • Must have completed a graduate program in informatics nursing that contains at least 200 hours of faculty-supervised practicum in informatics nursing

Upon passing the competency examination in nursing informatics, nurse informaticists must maintain their RN-BC credential, which includes renewing it every 5 years. The renewal of the RN-BC credential requires nurse informaticists to either complete at least 1,000 practice hours in nursing informatics in the previous 5 years or retake the competency examination. Additional contact hours of professional development must also be completed during the renewal period.

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