Data is increasingly proving to be valuable in the field of health care. The copious amounts of information that are collected, analyzed and leveraged every day are used to trend population health, decrease unnecessary spending, improve best practices, enhance patient care and more, contributing to the efficiency and efficacy of health care organizations across the U.S. and saving money for both providers and patients. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimated that the implementation of strategies based on Big Data analysis could reduce health care-related costs by between 12 and 17 percent in the U.S. alone. In 2013 when the report was originally released, this translated to between $300 billion and $450 billion.
Professionals who work with mass quantities of patient and organizational information come from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds. Some professionals, such as nurses, are particularly adept at transitioning into the specialized field of health informatics. Working at the front lines of health care, nurses are responsible for everything from direct patient care to the management of patient information. Nurses who have an interest in working with data should specifically consider pursuing a career as a nurse informatics specialist, a role that combines their experience in clinical nursing with training in health informatics to help health care organizations continue to evolve patient care
What is a nurse informatics specialist?
According to the International Medical Informatics Association Special Interest Group on Nursing Informatics 2009, nurse informatics is a “science and practice [that] integrates nursing, its information and knowledge, with management of information and communication technologies to promote the health of people, families, and communities worldwide.” Professionals who fill these roles are nurses who have transitioned into roles that use data to improve nursing best practices.
Other titles that cover these responsible include nurse informaticist, clinical analyst, clinical informatitian or informatics nurse specialist.
Though the professionals that work in these positions are registered nurses and share some of the responsibilities of a more traditional nursing position, the difference lies in the emphasis on information technology use to extract date to help improve patient care and outcomes.
“The discipline of nursing informatics is a well-established specialty within nursing, which has grown past the point where nurses simply help IT to design electronic medical record (EMR) screens and choose equipment,” Cheryl Parker, Ph.D., RN-BC, FHIMSS (2012) told the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. “Consider how much technology is now at the point-of-care. From physiologic monitoring and “smart” IV pumps and beds to electronic medical records (EMRs) and barcoded medication administration, technology is everywhere.”
Though the exact job description will vary by workplace, the American Medical Informatics Association reported that core responsibilities of a nurse informatics specialist include the following:
- Improving interpersonal workflow through communication and information technologies.
- Using methods of information retrieval and presentation to improve patient safety.
- Encouraging evidence-based best practices, education and research efforts.
- Contributing to the construction of an interoperable national data infrastructure.
- Advancing public health through influencing health care policy.
- Managing and creating vision for communication and information technology development, design and implementation.
These responsibilities are typically carried out as part of a larger health care team that may include physicians, nurses and other medical personnel.
Career opportunities as a nurse informatics specialist
As data becomes increasingly incorporated into the practice of health care, new opportunities are created for nurses who want to play a larger role in managing and leveraging this information. These positions are found in a variety of settings, including hospitals, medical groups, clinics, consulting companies, health care product corporations and long term care facilities.
A 2014 report by Burning Glass projected that demand for health informatics professionals will grow at twice the rate of the overall workforce, creating more opportunities for professionals who want to work in this facet of health care. This trend is in line with the simultaneously increasing demand for nurses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for RNs is expected to increase by 16 percent between 2014 and 2024.
In general, nurse informatics specialists earn a competitive salary. According to the career website PayScale, the median salary of a nurse informatics specialist is $82,014. However, there is the potential to earn much more. In the HIMSS 2017 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey, 46 percent of respondents reported that they earn base salaries of more than $100,000 each year.
In addition to the financial benefits, nurses who transition into a role working in health informatics appear to be happy with their decision. The HIMSS survey reported that a strong majority – about 80 percent – of respondents were satisfied or highly satisfied with their choice to pursue a career in informatics.
How to become a nurse informatics specialist
Earning a position as a nurse informatics specialist requires expertise in multiple areas of health care, many of which you can begin working toward today.
“First, all informatics nurses are nurses (BSN) with a clinical background, which is critical to understanding the workflow of clinical nurses as well as the working environment of the various care settings,” Parker said. “I have worked as a clinical nurse in medical/surgical units, emergency departments, critical care units, home health/hospice and long-term care. In addition, I have held various educational roles including academic, continuing education and clinical educator in healthcare facilities. This wide breadth of experience allows me to have a deeper understanding of the complexities and needs of the direct care givers I support with my informatics activities.”
Start by working on your clinical experience. If you are already a registered nurse and have been working in the field for several years, you should look for opportunities in the workplace to gain experience using data. Speak with your nurse manager or other supervisor about your interest in health informatics and determine if there are ways it can be incorporated into your current role.
To really gain expertise in data en route to a career as a nurse informatics specialist, consider earning a higher degree in health informatics, such as the Master of Science in Health Informatics degree through the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online program. According to the HIMSS 2017 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey, 57 percent of the professionals surveyed reported they held a postgraduate degree. Consequently, earning a master’s may not only give you the skills and knowledge you need to pursue this career path, it may also make you more competitive when you apply for positions down the road.