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Nurse Information Systems—Converging Nursing with Information Technology

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The field of health care is as lucrative and essential as the field of engineering and technology. Every field has gone through the information technology (IT) revolution, where the capability of the recipient field has improved by convergence with IT. The same has been true of nursing technology where, like any knowledge-intensive field, nursing has been greatly impacted by the explosive growth of computer technology. This field of nursing information systems is a new and exciting specialty that combines nursing skills with computer expertise. Nurse informatics specialists or nurse informaticists manage and communicate nursing data and information to improve decision making by consumers, patients, nurses, and other health care providers.

Eligibility for Nurse Informaticists

Although nurse informaticists will provide little or no direct patient care, they will still need an active registered nurse (RN) license. To enter the career of nurse information systems the education requirement can be earned in three ways:

  • Earning a bachelor's degree in nursing
  • Earning an associate's degree in nursing
  • Earning a diploma from an approved nursing school program
A bachelor's degree is always preferred over the other two. Even registered nurse informaticists who are associate degree or diploma qualified often enroll as part-time students in bachelor's degree programs in order to advance in their careers. The basic curriculum for nurse information systems career programs increasingly uses computers. For more exposure on computer technology, bachelor's and graduate-level training is available either within a nursing school program or outside of it, depending on how deeply you want to get into the computer side of things.

Certification as nurse informaticists can be done by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). However, for such accreditation specific coursework, specific experience, and/or continuing education is required. The requirements can vary according to state, so proper research should be done about the specific requirements for the nursing informatics specialist path of interest in the state where you wish to practice. Upon qualifying as a registered nurse and gaining practical informatics experience, the candidate can then continue to certify for the skills for which an accredited course must be attended. As nursing information systems is a relatively new field, there are many different courses which last anywhere from a few days to months to complete. Enrolling in any kind of course without information is not advised. You should ensure any course you enroll in is accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) thereby making sure that the achieved qualification will be widely accepted.

Nature of Work for Nurse Informaticists

Nursing informaticists are equivalent to RNs with an addition of information technology skills. So the work they do is a combination of nursing and computer science to communicate data, information, and knowledge within the nursing profession. Nursing informaticists or informatics nurses have a wide range of responsibility including the design, development, implementation, education, and evaluation of clinical information systems in various healthcare settings, which are then used to provide information to nurses and other health care professionals to assist in their decision-making capabilities. Since nursing informaticists also have nursing knowledge, they can efficiently handle and are essential to the successful design and implementation of healthcare systems.

The work profile for a nurse informatics is as follows:
  • Designing, developing, and implementing clinical software systems
  • Educating other healthcare professionals on the use of systems
  • Customizing systems to suit their work environment's purpose
  • Researching potential systems and evaluating their benefits
  • Using healthcare systems to access patients' medical records and to support critical decisions
  • Maintaining data bases through computer software and systems
  • Updating clinical systems with patients' details
Nursing informaticists work mainly in large hospitals and clinics, though they may also work for vendors of healthcare systems. Many also work as traveling consultants, while traveling to various hospitals and healthcare centers selecting, customizing, researching, and maintaining systems. Most nurse informatics specialists work in a hospital or healthcare setting, yet a significant percentage hold lucrative positions with health-related vendors, suppliers, and consulting firms. The various jobs in the field of nurse information system include:
  • Nurse programmers who write or modify computer programs for use by nurses.
  • Nurse communicators who work with other nurses to identify computer system needs or to assist in the training and implementation of those systems.
  • Informatics nurse managers who manage or administer information systems.
  • Nurse vendor representatives who demonstrate systems to potential customers.
Job Outlook

In 2007, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conducted a major survey of nurse informaticists to announce that the average salary earned by respondents to this survey was $83,675, compared to $69,500 in the 2004 survey. This is strong evidence of the increasing maturity, value, and demand of the specialty. This salary increase reflects the average increase in parameters like graduate degrees, managerial responsibilities, and years of experience. This also shows that nurse informatics specialists working for vendor organizations tend to make significantly more than those working for hospitals and other healthcare organizations, the trend of which had been seen in the past.

As most nurses and healthcare professionals are not adequately trained in information technology, nurse information systems will become even more important in bridging the gap between clinical care skills and technology. The work areas like word processing, information search and retrieval, and data analysis may need a nurse informatics specialist's expertise to translate the language appropriately, in addition to these nurse informaticists bringing clinical knowledge to more advanced technical projects such as the development of administrative computer systems and the interpretation of complex medical data. The demand for all types of nurses is expected to increase significantly over the next decade. Thereby it will positively affect salaries, schedules, job openings, and the availability of training institutions and government grants for education. The field of nursing information systems, combining both the nursing expertise and technical skills, can be a great and interesting career to pursue.
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