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Nursing Informatics: Where Technology and Nursing Intersect

February 2012

Nursing informatics, as defined by the American Nurses Association (ANA), is "a specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science and information science to manage and communicate data, information and knowledge in nursing practice."

In 1992, the ANA helped to establish nursing informatics as a specialty. Publication of The Standards of Practice for Nursing Informatics followed in 1995 to define the field's professional standards. During this time, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) began offering board certification for nursing informatics – RN-BC – which recognizes professional achievement and verifies that a nurse has met the designated standards of the specialty. Since then, the nursing informatics specialty has continued to grow, according to Bonnie Westra, PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Nursing and co-chair for the Alliance for Nursing Informatics (ANI).

"Today, the primary goal of a nurse informaticist is to improve clinical and patient documentation using advanced computer and information technologies," said Westra. Designing and applying systems that streamline and optimize documentation facilitates better analysis of clinical data and reduce unnecessary work for nurses. Additionally, it improves communication among healthcare providers, which in turn impacts the quality of patient care.

Another primary objective for nurse informaticists is to provide user-friendly data collection systems, as nurses may have difficulty using a system that is too complex or time consuming. Nurse informaticists work to ensure that new systems are easy to understand and can be incorporated into existing systems. "Informatics is like a puzzle. It is the understanding of how things fit together. Once you know how things fit together and you're skilled with technology, you can use that to improve efficiencies for nurses," said Westra.

Westra recommends that those interested in the field of nursing informatics begin their careers as registered nurses. "It's important for nurse informaticists to understand how to serve the needs of nurses with technology, so it's helpful if they have some clinical experience. The combination of clinical and technical experience helps nurse informaticists to understand why this profession matters and how it can help so many people in the field of healthcare," said Westra.

Nurse informaticists can work in a broad range of settings, including hospitals, various healthcare facilities, home care, universities, consulting firms or corporations that create and market healthcare information systems.

There are several certifications available for those interested in pursuing a career in nursing informatics, including Certified Professional in Healthcare Information Management Systems (CPHIMS) and Certified Professional in Health Information Technology (CPHIT). Advanced training and board certification can also be obtained from the ANCC.

For more information about how to become certified in this specialty, visit www.nursecredentialing.org.

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