HealthAugust 17, 2018

Nurse informaticists, smoothing out the junction of IT and patient care

Nurses are often at the first line of execution when new IT hardware, software, and systems are introduced in hospitals and health systems. They are the mediator between the requirements of the electronic medical record, with its various alerts, data entry requirements, and strict algorithms, and the patient whom the system is theoretically designed to serve.

The user interfaces nurses must interact with on a continuing basis can make or break their work patterns. And if badly designed, these interfaces can turn a satisfying work day into a soul-crushing grind.

Nurses need to have a voice in selection and implementation of IT solutions that will be used throughout their health systems. If the solution doesn’t mesh comfortably with the nursing work flow, it’s not going to be successful long term for the institution.

For that reason a new role for tech-savvy nurses has emerged over the past 15 years: the nursing informatics expert. These are nurses who have committed to a specialized career path within nursing that drills down into clinical information systems and how bedside caregivers interact with them. These nurses study the technical aspects of IT implementation, training, and process improvement from the perspective of those on the hospital unit floor who have to carry out and document every step of the patient’s care plan.

A large system like UCLA Health, for instance, employs six nurse informaticists, in addition to 20 physician informaticists on staff. The health system has gone so far as to create a nursing informatics fellowship to ensure a future talent stream.

A number of big systems have elevated their most experienced and capable nurse informaticists to the role of Chief Nursing Informatics Officer, or CNIO. In April 2018 the Scottsdale Institute, a member organization of large non-profit health systems, convened a group of CNIOs to talk about their common concerns and ambitions for this role. The topic of the two-day summit was “Managing Change and Optimizing Clinical Innovation.”

The CNIOs talked about themes such as:

  • Mentorship
  • Encouraging more women to take on IT leadership roles
  • Good hospital citizenship
  • Tamping down the proliferation of on-off apps
  • Dealing with financial pressures
  • Enlarging the pool of future CNIOs

The conversation was moderated by Pamella Holt, RN, MOL, director of operational consulting for Clinical Effectiveness, part of Wolters Kluwer. Holt is an experienced health system informaticist who implemented complex IT projects at a major Midwestern health system before advising on Emmi® patient engagement programs.

As a member organization, Wolters Kluwer sponsored the summit and produced a 13-page report, Managing change and optimizing clinical innovation, summarizing the discussion.

In a series of blog posts to follow, we will highlight key insights from the meeting.


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