nursingBig data is proliferating throughout America's health care system, and hospitals don't have enough informatics specialists to handle it. According to HIMSS, 30 percent of hospitals have unfilled informatics positions on staff, making it the second most commonly unfilled position in any American hospital. If you're ready to start your online degree and enroll in an RN-BSN program, you can take courses to prepare yourself for a nursing informatics career.

What Is Nursing Informatics?

The nursing informatics (NI) specialty combines nursing science, information systems and computer science to provide decision support for patients, caregivers, providers, payers and other health care stakeholders. NI specialists work with billing and coding systems, PACS and electronic medical records, using their clinical expertise in a way other IT professionals cannot.

Transitioning to NI can provide a refuge from 10 to 12-hour shifts as well as from the physical demands of nursing. It can also ease some of the psychological stresses associated with hands-on patient care. However, nurses will have to adjust to an IT environment that might seem rigid in comparison to their days on the hospital floor. Also, since informatics specialists translate data into more efficient processes, NI specialists have to tolerate change and instigate it.

How Does NI Benefit the Hospital?

NI specialists provide four major services to a hospital or health system:

  • Standardized documentation. NI specialists work to create uniform procedures and forms within the hospital. They make sure each department follows the same workflowsas much as possible.
  • Procedures for information management. Hospital work requires extensive patient documentation, and recordkeeping is changing from a paper format to an electronic one. NI specialists can be instrumental in helping hospitals to make the digital transition by coming up with common sense ways to gather, analyze and use patient data.
  • Process re-engineering. Many nurses follow hospital procedures while knowing they can come up with better ways of doing things. With NI, nurses not only suspect they know better; they have the data to back up their conclusions.
  • Research and evidence collection. By organizing data and providing reporting, NI specialists can help hospitals improve their services. For example, an NI specialist could examine data to identify a hospital's top patient safety issue. Then, he or she could develop improved procedures to reduce or eliminate the problem.

How Can NI Boost Your Earning Potential?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognized NI as a nursing specialty in 1992, and most BSN programs offer courses for NI emphasis. However, the field is undergoing a rapid expansion because of the advent of big data, and job descriptions vary from hospital to hospital. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn't published salary data for NI practitioners, HIMSS data suggests a median salary of $88,000 per year, depending on geographic location and experience.

After gaining some practical experience, nurses can earn certification in NI from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC.) Certification requires a BSN, two years of nursing experience, 30 hours of informatics training in the previous three years and a flexible combination of informatics-specific work experience and graduate work. NI certification also requires nurses to pass a 75-question, 3.5-hour exam. Nurses with a BSN can go on to earn a master's degree in health informatics or a related field. The more educational credits they earn, the better earning potential nurses will have.

Switching From Patient Care to NI

If you're planning on earning a BSN anyway, take courses that will give you an informatics foundation. When you have some patient care experience under your belt, earn your NI certification and make the switch to the IT department. Just in case the career isn't a good fit and you miss hands-on time with patients, keep all of your prior certifications current and fulfill continuing education requirements related to patient care.

Unprecedented changes are rocking America's hospitals, particularly related to the adoption of technology in the health care environment. This time of change has opened the door for many nurses to transition into an informatics role. NI specialists have the chance to revolutionize patient care by improving hospital procedures and information management. The work they do today could shape the health care system of tomorrow.

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