Nursing informatics gains standing

By Bernie Monegain
01:17 PM

CHICAGO – With the increasing adoption of healthcare information technology, nursing informatics – which combines nursing practice with computer expertise – is playing a growing role in patient care and driving more nurses to leadership positions, according to a new Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey conducted by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

“The role of the informatics nurse has matured quite a bit over the past 10 years,” said Joyce Sensmeier, vice president of informatics for HIMSS.

Nurse informaticists are focused on connectivity and interoperability, she said. Past surveys showed they were more worried about the cost of healthcare IT systems as a barrier to the uptake of technology. Today, financial concerns take a backseat to a focus on connectivity and interoperability, which Sensmeier views as progress.

Quality of care and patient safety is also top of mind for nurse informaticists, said Mary Beth Mitchell, chief nursing information officer at Texas Health Resources in Dallas. As she sees it, technology is vital to improved quality and safety.
However, she warns against complacency.

"We have to be careful we don't rely on technology too much," she said. There's danger in assuming that the technology will "save us from everything."

Key findings of the survey:
•    The average salary for nurse informaticists has jumped 30 percent in six years to more than $98,000.
•    Nurse informaticists see a lack of integration between healthcare IT systems as the biggest barrier to success. Previously, lack of funding was identified as the main barrier.
•    More than half of nurse informaticists list systems implementation as their primary responsibility, indicative of the growing importance of their role. Regarding types of systems they are participating in developing, 77 percent named clinical documentation and 62 percent said electronic health record systems, which was not listed in the top three in 2007.  Also listed were computerized practitioner order entry (CPOE), at 60 percent, and clinical information systems (58 percent).
•    Forty-two percent of respondents hold an accredited certification, with 19 percent holding a nursing informatics specialty certification and another 35 percent currently pursuing that certification. Nearly nine in 10 (88 percent) are members of at least one professional association.
•    Nearly two-fifths – 39 percent – reported they have been nurse informaticists for 10 years or more, compared with 33 percent in 2007. More than one-third – 37 percent – have titles that identify their position as a nurse informaticist, compared with one-third three years ago.

"The increase in salary demonstrates the industry's recognition of the importance of nursing informatics as a growing and valued profession," said Sensmeier. "The fact that informatics nurses see lack of systems integration as their primary obstacle suggests they understand the potential impact on patient safety when information cannot move seamlessly from system to system, facility to facility."

Another recent study – this one conducted by the Hay Group, based in Philadelphia – revealed that clinical informatics positions at hospitals are proving difficult to fill.

"These positions are so new and so specialized that it's not surprising to see these professionals capitalizing on the market demand for their services," said Dan Mayfield, a healthcare consultant with the Hay Group. "Retention will be tough until more talent develops in the market. Also, programmers tend to enjoy the design and implementation project phases, rather than the maintenance and utilization of systems. We see this difference in IT positions across all industries."

The Hay Group's clinical informatics data is derived from a survey sent to large, complex hospitals and health systems in November 2010; 65 organizations supplied data – 50 were integrated health systems with an average of 12 hospitals, while the rest were stand-alone hospitals.