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What Is Nursing Informatics?

A health care professional works on a computer while wearing green scrubs, a face mask, hair net, and protective goggles.

Health care technology is advancing rapidly, and new technologies gather increasing amounts of patient care and operational data. In the right hands, that data can be a powerful tool — one that provides critical insights that drive improvements in treatment effectiveness, diagnostic accuracy, health services administration, and operations.

Health care organizations now have to decide who should leverage available data. First, there are the technologists: data analysts and data scientists who have the technical skills to work with large amounts of information but lack context. Then, there are clinicians: doctors and nurses who understand the value of data but lack the technical skills to work with it. Between them sit the informaticists: professionals with advanced training in both analytics and health care delivery.

Nurses who work in this professional specialization are called nurse informaticists. They are well-suited to analyze and integrate data-driven insights into patient care and medical research, in part because they spend more time with patients than other clinicians. They also spend roughly 25% of their time using complex EHR systems, so they tend to be comfortable with data management and data manipulation.

Clinical experience is not all nurses and nurse practitioners need to launch a career in informatics, however. Nurse informaticists often have advanced credentials such as the University of Michigan School of Nursing’s Online MSN in Leadership, Analytics, and Innovation. Analytics-focused Master of Science in Nursing programs teach experienced bedside nurses and nurse managers to apply analytics and related technologies as clinical practitioners, leaders, administrators, entrepreneurs, and educators.

Learning more about the profession is crucial for nurses looking to transition into informatics. Growth in the health informatics field is creating new opportunities for nurses in clinical management, analytics, quality improvement, and health sciences research. The global recruitment and employment site Monster asserts that informatics is the “one thing all nurses need to know” to future-proof their careers. Keep reading to find out why nursing informatics is the nursing specialty of the future and how enrolling in an MSN degree program focused on analytics can help you impact change.

Defining Nursing Informatics

According to the American Nurses Association, nursing informatics integrates nursing science with information technology and analytical sciences to classify, manage, interpret, and transmit data to improve health care. Though some sources treat nursing informatics as a distinct discipline with a limited scope, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) doesn’t draw sharp distinctions beyond pointing out that nurse informaticists are often concerned primarily with data’s potential to enhance patient safety.

“Nursing informatics specialists are the translators that have evolved into health tech innovators who establish businesses, manage medical economics, create technology, and amplify the voice of end-user clinicians,” asserts Danielle Siarri, MSN, RN in an HIMSS guide to the profession.

Nurse informaticists have numerous and varied responsibilities because they are frequently both clinicians and technologists. Some spend their days integrating data systems within a single infrastructure to drive efficiency in nursing units. Others aggregate and review patient care safety data to drive process improvements across health care networks. Still, others utilize health care data to improve public health, enhance medical research, or develop new consumer technologies.

What nurse informaticists in all roles have in common, in addition to advanced training, is a shared purpose. Whether focused on patient safety, cost reduction, or clinical trial enhancement, informatics is largely concerned with making health care better.

How Nursing Informatics Improves Health Care

Nursing informatics provides information that drives evidence-based practice, “the backbone of modern medicine.” Nursing informaticists gather data on a macro level to answer the questions driving the next evolution of health care. They may work with patient data, administrative data, research data, or diagnostic data, but in every case, nurses in informatics are enhancing medicine and medical research.

Nursing Informatics Prevents Short-Staffing

Nurse managers with informatics training can forecast patient demand to prevent understaffing, reducing patient wait times. Decreased patient wait times correlate with increased patient satisfaction, which can lead to better long-term patient outcomes because happier patients are more likely to seek out the treatment they need.

Nursing Informatics Prevents Medical Errors and Oversights

Thousands of people die each year in the U.S. due to medication errors. More suffer because administrative issues lead to gaps in treatment. Informaticists prevent deadly mistakes and damaging oversights by implementing EHR systems with built-in safeguards that alert practitioners to potential drug interactions or missed treatments. They also use intelligent decision support platforms to detect breast cancers earlier and identify uncommon conditions. In clinical settings, nurse informaticists cross-check individual patient data against databases to pinpoint potential diagnoses and contraindicate others.

Nursing Informatics Reduces Patient Risk

Predictive health care analytics technologies powered by Big Data reduce patient risk and clinical uncertainty by identifying the patients in danger of succumbing to heart attacks or strokes. AI can also pinpoint which patients are most likely to be readmitted after discharge. A nurse informaticist can assign each patient a risk score in a predictive analytics platform using vital signs, comorbidities, and other health care data. The analytics platform sends out alerts when changing risk scores indicate patients are in danger.

Nursing Informatics Lowers Health Care Costs

Waste is a significant issue in medicine. According to recent studies, health care systems across the United States waste an estimated $760 billion to $935 billion annually. That is 25% of all health care spending in the nation. Nursing informaticists help curb waste in several ways. For example, predicting adverse health outcomes using analytics allows health care facilities to accurately budget for the resources they will need, preventing overspending. Informatics can drive process improvements in billing, human resources management, facilities management, and marketing, lowering costs in the process. Mercy Hospital Network saved more than $4 million in a single year after simply implementing a nursing analytics dashboard.

Nursing Informatics Reduces Nursing Attrition

Attrition is a critical problem in nursing. The 2021 National Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report found the annual turnover rate for hospital RNs is 18.7% when hospital vacancy rates are currently at 9% for registered nurses. Hiring and onboarding new nurses takes an average of 89 days and costs hospitals more than $48,000 per bedside RN. Data related to workflows in health care settings and nursing practice optimization can shape policies concerning working hours and patient load to increase nurse engagement and satisfaction.

What Nursing Informatics Careers Look Like

There are many opportunities available across the health care industry for nurse specialists who train in informatics beyond nursing informaticist. Informatics is a field with numerous specializations, including clinical informatics, consumer health informatics, perioperative informatics, population health informatics, and biomedical informatics. When an RN studies informatics in a master’s degree program, they hone skills applicable in various informatics specialty areas. Some graduates of MSN in nursing informatics programs leverage their skills in their units. Others go on to work with health information systems or consumer technologies.

In all cases, they out-earn their colleagues with bachelor’s-level nursing degrees. The 2020 HIMSS Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey found nursing informaticists with more formal education enjoy higher salaries. Among those surveyed, 63% earned an annual base salary between $61,000 and $115,000, and 66% reported earning more after completing graduate school.

Preparing for a Nursing Informatics Career at the University of Michigan

U-M’s 34-credit hour analytics-centered MSN program prepares experienced RNs with bachelor’s degrees to propel health care forward using data. School of Nursing faculty members are clinicians and researchers who are experts in nurse leadership, informatics, evidence-based practice, and health analytics. Some are Chief Nursing Officers. Students in the flexible online program enroll to develop the skills necessary to leverage leading-edge technological tools to excel in nursing leadership positions.

Earning an MSN in informatics or analytics can put you at the forefront of the tech-driven changes happening in health care. The core MSN program coursework will give you the technical skills to use data to evaluate and solve the most pressing challenges health care systems face, along with the wisdom to use data ethically. You will benefit from immersions and practicum experiences that expose you to different roles in nurse leadership. You can also pursue an optional Certificate in Health Informatics in a 16-credit sequence covering the foundation of informatics, evaluation methods in health care informatics, and the sociotechnical components of information systems.

Is it the right program for you? Only you can decide whether your academic background, professional experience, aspirations, and needs align with the program. U-M’s MSN in Leadership, Analytics, and Innovation attracts action-oriented, data-driven nurse leaders who want to tackle analytical decision-making and advance into leadership roles. If that sounds like you, this non-clinical master’s degree can not only help you become an informatics nurse but also position you to thrive in a wider range of informatics careers.

To learn more about non-clinical roles for nurses, the online student experience at U-M, or financial aid options, register for an upcoming online event. Or take the next step in your nursing career and apply online today.