Last week, I was standing in a room full of health care professionals networking when I introduced myself to a fellow nurse. I found myself anxiously waiting for that awkward moment I so often experience after introducing myself as a nurse informatician. Typically, I see a puzzled face or I hear comments such as “what do you?” “so, do you still work as a nurse?”, “oh, so you don’t work in the hospital anymore”, or the worst response, “oh so you aren’t really working as a nurse anymore”.
Over the past decade, my role as a registered nurse has gradually shifted from direct patient care to informatics. In the current digital health era, where our dependence on clinical information systems is growing, the role of nurse in informatics is becoming increasingly relevant – and I would argue increasingly pressing. Who better to guide the digital transformation of the healthcare system than that of an experienced nurse?
A joint position statement published by the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Nursing Informatics Association recognizes that “nursing informatics competencies are essential for nurses in all roles to function in complex, contemporary health-care environments”. It also states that having “nurses with a specialization in informatics to support decision-making relevant to the profession’s use of information and technology in digitally connected health environments” is essential.
Nurse informaticians have expertise in nursing and information technology. They must have extensive clinical knowledge gained from their experience as nurses in various healthcare settings and must be able to apply this knowledge to optimize healthcare through the use of technology. Nurse informaticians are there to speak out when digital health initiatives can have unintended effects on patient care and safety or when their implementation negatively impact nursing care or nurses. As such, they play an essential role to ensure that digital health initiatives improve, and not hinder, care. Nurses who work as informaticians would not be able to perform these tasks if they did not have core nursing knowledge and expertise.
The position of a nurse informatician directly falls within the scope of nursing practice. The informatics role includes utilizing nursing knowledge, skill, judgment, and expertise. This role also includes advocating for providers’ ease of accessing clinical information systems and working with them in day-to-day practice. As such, the nurse informatician is best positioned to advocate for nurses to be involved in system user design and to identify limitations in the system based on the understanding of what nurses need to know and do to be able to do to perform their job successfully.
Nurse informaticians also advocate for the patient. They evaluate clinical information systems carefully to identify opportunities for patients to access their own personal health information safely and to promote continuity of care through carefully designed system of information sharing. As such, they seek new ways to make the system more efficient for healthcare providers by identifying possible digital connections. This analysis has the potential to reduce wait times and repeat tests for the patient creating greater benefits for the healthcare system by reducing costs in tests, procedures, and admissions just to name a few.
To sum up, the nurse informatician is a nurse. It is essential that we recognize the value of this role and its vital importance in the digital age of today’s healthcare. Furthermore, it is imperative that we start including informatics in advanced practice nursing and support the development of advanced practice positions for nurses in this field. For this project to become a reality, we need to start by raising the profile of this role within the nursing community and building a collective understanding of its importance – and relevance.
Kara Turley is a registered nurse and a student in the Master’s Program (Double-Degree Option-Master of Nursing and Master of Health Informatics). She currently works as a Clinical Informatics Specialist. She sits on the executive board of the Saskatchewan Nursing Informatics Association, she is the co-lead in the provincial work in standardizing order sets to promote evidenced-based care and increase the quality of care, and a member of the National Nursing Data Standards assembly.