As technology has become a critical component of nearly every aspect of health care, informatics has grown in importance.
Christopher Miller, DHSC, faculty member in Capella University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences, explains that data has become an essential component of patient care. “Every professional involved in quality of care relies on informatics to some degree,” he says.
Regulatory compliance is an area where data is key. “In the last two decades, health systems and regulations have become incredibly complex,” Miller says. “Everyone from newly hired nurses to executives have to interact through informatics to make sure those regulations are adhered to.”
Looking for an intro to informatics? Here’s a quick guide on what informatics is and what you can do with an informatics degree.
Miller breaks down the role of informatics in nursing, health care executive leadership, and IT.
Nursing informaticists are the liaisons between IT professionals and clinicians. They use informatics to understand patient and clinical needs, as well as business and IT needs, and to support continuity and quality of care across caregivers. This means understanding the specialized languages used across these disciplines.
There’s a larger picture to the data acquired and stored by nursing informaticists, and that’s public health. “Most hospitals gather data that is to be shared with public health entities,” says Miller. “That allows clinicians across the country to see trends that are happening elsewhere, learn what techniques may be most successful, and spot outbreaks or clusters of conditions.”
Electronic medical records (EMRs) can also allow patients’ records to follow them as they move through different health systems. A primary care nurse may record a health history that will later allow an emergency room nurse get critical information about a patient who is unable to communicate.
The nursing informatics role involves talking to nurses and the chief nursing officer, if there is one, to determine what kind of data or processes are needed. They may also be involved in:
- Implementing EMRs and making sure they capture information at the point of care accurately and in a standard format.
- Managing, interpreting, and communicating data to improve clinical practice.
- Integrating ICD-10 into systems.
- Developing research studies.
- Using technology to streamline workflow.
Health Care Leadership
Health care managers, and those in the C-suite or other leadership positions, use informatics at a high level. “Leadership isn’t as focused on the clinical side of informatics, although patient care is still important,” Miller says. “They need to understand management issues, including regulations and compliance issues. They use informatics data to form strategy, make decisions, learn best practices, and conform to regulations and policies.”
When it comes to informatics, their interest lies in:
- Making decisions on technology investments (e.g., upgrades, optimizations, maintenance, staffing).
- Ensuring informatics is aligned with the strategic plan of the organization.
- Using informatics to monitor regulatory compliance and accreditation.
- High-level oversight of projects and timelines.
- Using data analytics from the financial system, EMRs, etc. for decision-making.
Miller says it’s not necessarily enough to have an IT background if someone wants to work in health care informatics. “There’s an entire language and background the IT person needs to learn,” he says. “This isn’t a business like other businesses, such as banks. Health IT professionals need to understand everything from scheduling to HR to data sharing and interoperability.”
While technology education is required, Miller also recommends additional specialization, either in the form of additional degrees or certifications.
Keeping the informatics systems going is one aspect of the IT person’s role. But data analysts also play a large role. “The analyst will mine that data to uncover trends, incidences, errors and falls, wait times, patient satisfaction, and overall quality,” explains Miller.
Health IT roles are concerned with:
- Installing and implementing hardware and software that brings health care operations into regulatory compliance.
- Ensuring software is compatible with other health systems.
- Working with clinicians to develop technical ways of achieving better patient outcomes, whether through research or improved workflow.
- Deploying or replacing equipment and upgrades.
- Testing hardware and software for QA.
- Writing code for reports, clinical decision support features, customizations, optimizations, etc.
- Operating the IT call center and troubleshooting.
Whether in nursing, leadership, or IT, each health care role uses informatics to drive quality patient care.
Capella offers programs in health care, nursing, and IT informatics: