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Deep impact: Informatics and nursing practice

Sensmeier, Joyce RN, BC, MS, CPHIMS, FHIMSS

doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000357564.51644.42

The goal? Use IT to increase efficiency, safety, and efficacy.

Joyce Sensmeier is vice president of informatics, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Chicago, Ill.

It's exciting to realize that many hospitals and health systems are currently purchasing and implementing information systems that can positively impact patient care delivery. Currently, 56% of U.S. hospitals have some level of electronic medical record application installed to support care delivery.1 However, it's essential that nurses are guiding these projects to ensure that their work is supported, not compromised.

Healthcare has been slow to take advantage of the benefits that computerization can bring, and most hospitals still do much of their record keeping on paper. This technological awakening creates an opportunity for nurse informaticists to take the lead in bridging the gap between information technology (IT) and patient care to move healthcare into the digital age.

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Where we're at

Nursing informatics was recently ranked by Yahoo Education as one of the 10 Great Careers You've Probably Never Heard Of.2 The American Nurses Association identified nursing informatics as a specialty in 2001. And U.S. News & World Report recently listed health informatics specialists as number one in ahead-of-the-curve careers.3 While more than 8,000 nurses are practicing as nurse informaticists, many more are needed to achieve widespread adoption of the electronic health record (EHR).

A recent study found that the health IT industry needs at least 40,000 additional professionals to move toward a paperless system.4 To reach this goal, much work is needed to educate both nurses and faculty in informatics competencies so that technology can be embraced as a tool in everyday practice. The TIGER (Technology Informatics Guiding Education Reform) Initiative is making strides toward this goal. Hundreds of nurses have volunteered their expertise to work on the nine collaborative TIGER teams, each focused on a key topic and led by industry experts. The goal of the collaborative teams is to share their findings and recommendations with all practicing nurses and nursing students through targeted outreach activities with summary reports to be published this fall.5

There are many opportunities to take advantage of technology to improve the efficiency of nursing care. Nurses from 36 medical-surgical units recently participated in a time and motion study to assess how nurses spend their time. Study results showed that changes in technology, work processes, and unit organization and design were areas of potential improvement in the use of nurses' time and the safe delivery of patient care.6 Involving nurses in this transformation is critical to its success.

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Challenges to overcome

The opportunities may be plentiful, but challenges still exist. Thirty-nine percent of the chief information officers responding to the 19th Annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Leadership Survey identified clinical application support as an IT staffing need.7 Another 20% specified the need for clinical informaticists, and nearly one-quarter identified process/workflow design as an area for staffing support. Clinical information systems were identified as the most important applications for the next 2 years. Yet nearly 10% of respondents identified lack of time from clinicians as the most significant barrier to implementing IT.

Can patient care be improved with IT? Over three-quarters of respondents to a recent Vantage Point survey on IT and clinical workflow indicated that quality of care would benefit as a result of the presence of IT that assists clinicians in carrying out their day-to-day job.8 Eighty percent of respondents also noted that nurses at their organization are involved in how technology should be integrated into the nursing workflow. However, nearly 40% of the respondents indicated that the technology that's currently available doesn't fit into workflow.8 A survey published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that physicians who use the EHR say overwhelmingly that such records have helped improve the quality and timeliness of care. But fewer than one in five of the nation's physicians has started using such records.9 Of the more than 2,600 physicians who participated in the survey, 82% of those using electronic records said they improved the quality of clinical decisions, and 86% said they helped in avoiding medication errors.10

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Where we're headed

So how can informatics positively impact nursing practice? The ultimate goal is to use technology to bring critical information to the point of care to increase efficiency and make healthcare safer and more effective.11 This goal requires implementation of an interconnected EHR system across hospitals, healthcare systems, and regions. The need for interoperability exists across all settings of care, including ambulatory care, and ultimately reaching into the home.

Nurses are working as leaders in several national initiatives to lay the groundwork for this nationwide health information network using standardization and technical specifications. The Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel is selecting standards and developing interoperability specifications based on priority use cases and promoting the adoption of these standards.12 The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology is developing criteria for interoperability and certifying EHR systems.13 More specifically, IT solutions such as bar-code systems for medication management are being used by healthcare providers to reduce the risk of error. Results of a study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that medical errors harm one out of 15 children who are hospitalized. Aggressive measures, including technology-based solutions such as closed-loop medication administration, are needed to combat this shocking statistic.14

The National League for Nursing (NLN) recently published a position statement calling on faculty, deans, and administrators to require that all nursing students graduate with knowledge and skills in each of three critical areas: computer literacy, information literacy, and informatics. One impetus for this statement was a 2006 NLN study, which revealed that only 60% of nursing programs had a computer literacy requirement and 40% had an information literacy requirement. Less than 60% of survey respondents said that informatics was integrated into the curriculum and experience with information systems was provided during clinical experiences.15

Given the shortage of trained, experienced informatics nurses and the limited number of schools that include informatics competencies in their curriculum, how can we better embrace technology to improve nursing practice?

  • Seek nursing input. Nurses should be involved in every IT decision that impacts their workflow. IT champions should be recruited from nursing staff members to act as a resource and model for colleagues during system implementations. Organizations should engage nurse informaticists to be leaders for the design, selection, and implementation of information systems that impact patient care.
  • Invest in training. Nurses need consistent training to feel comfortable with the use of IT in their everyday practice. Onsite trainers are needed who can be an available resource to reassure nurses that patient care won't be compromised by the intrusion of a new system. Chief nursing officers should pursue continuing education in informatics competencies and partner with their nurse informaticist colleagues to lead IT-based projects. Nurse educators should embrace informatics competencies and ensure that they're incorporated into curricula.
  • Promote IT excellence. Look to other organizations that have achieved improved outcomes through the use of technology. Learn from nurses at organizations that have achieved awards of excellence like the Davies Award to better understand how they successfully moved from paper-based systems to electronic processes.16 Keep in mind that IT should enable quality improvement by capturing data as a byproduct of the care process, and leverage every opportunity to do so.
  • Build toward an EHR. Consider selecting systems in a staged approach so that you can build the foundation for a fully paperless EHR.17 Start with the basics, including ancillary systems such as laboratory, radiology, and pharmacy. Build a clinical data repository that can collect data from such systems and subsequently provide it at the point of care. Add clinical documentation and clinical decision support to elicit information from data that can further enhance nursing knowledge. After these foundational systems are in place, add computer-based order entry and closed-loop medication administration to better address quality and safety issues. By using a staged approach you'll be well positioned for success to achieve IT-enabled clinical transformation.
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© 2008 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.