Nursing informatics programs gaining ground

By Anthony Brino
10:34 AM

Hoping to fill a projected gap of some 50,000 healthcare IT professionals in the next several years, the Office of the National Coordinator’s Health IT Workforce Development Program is funding community college programs that can train IT professionals in healthcare and train healthcare professionals, like nurses, in IT.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is also projecting a 20 percent increase in demand for registered nurses during the next decade, and amid increased enrollment in nursing schools, nursing informatics is growing as part of the curriculum.

Outlining the clinical quality potential and increasing demand for nursing informatics specialization, HIMSS called nursing informatics an “emerging giant” in 2007. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s quality standards include applied informatics education as an essential requirement for baccalaureate and the Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.

It’s not clear how many college and university nursing programs incorporate health IT, although many graduate programs do, and some schools offer undergraduate and doctoral specializations in nursing informatics.

But nursing programs at community colleges and some universities have lagged behind, said Vicki Vallejos, a registered nurse and the clinical informatics manager at Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and the American Nursing Informatics Association president.

“I think it should be a semester course in every nursing school, regardless of what the level is,” Vallejos said. “Nurses need to understand the wide spectrum of what a nurse informaticist can do,” Vallejos said, adding that the U.S. has not “come to where that it is the norm in nursing schools.”

Vallejos helps manage some of the nursing students from eight regional community colleges and universities that do practicums at Clark Memorial Hospital. Only two of those eight have informatics in the curriculum, she said.

The ONC’s grant program is helping community colleges create informatics certificate programs that can be completed along with a nursing degree, or that registered nurses can complete online or part-time.

Based on Vallejos’ observations, nursing informatics education, like HIT adoption, varies across the country. None of the regional community colleges around Clark Memorial Hospital have joined ONC’s training program.

“Here in the Midwest,” Vallejos said, “it seems like everything gets to us last from both sides of the coast.”

Clark Memorial Hospital has had some delays in updating its EHR system; the roughly $20 million update is set to be complete in the next two years. Other regional health systems across the Ohio River in Louisville have also lagged EHR implementation, Vallejos said.

“I think that some schools are waiting for the different hospitals to get their EHRs installed,” Vallejos said, adding that not all nursing programs have access to an EHR program for training. “I’m on a couple of email lists and this is brought up by faculty on a routine basis: ‘Can I find a good EHR system that doesn’t costs us and arm and a leg and that we can use for our students to practice on?’”

As demand for nursing informatics skills grows and the field evolves, new educational products are coming online, in part riding the somewhat disruptive wave of Web-based education and app-based learning tools.

In 2007, nursing and engineering professors at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville began creating what became the “DocuCare EHR” simulation software that in 2010 was purchased by healthcare information publisher Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

The software has 70 different patients and records cases, diagnostic and treatment databases and evidence-based content from 1,200 hospitals.

Tami Wyatt, a University of Tennessee-Knoxville nursing professor co-invented DocuCare with an engineering professor and several graduate students. “Relying on the limited exposure to EHR technology that nursing students get during their clinical experiences is just not enough,” Wyatt said in a media release in August.