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Understanding the role of nurse informaticists in healthcare

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A few years ago I attended a class reunion. As I was catching up with an old classmate, sharing the typical life updates, she was surprised to learn about my career shift from a traditional nursing role to my new work in health information technology. She saw this transition as dramatic — that I had given up nursing in lieu of an office job. I quickly realized that, like most people, she had a deep misunderstanding of the health IT field and its connection to the medical field.

I am a nurse. I am an informatics nurse. I help people. The integrated electronic medical record has great value and is essential to the continued growth of the medical field. When a patient comes to the hospital and cannot remember (or doesn’t know) her history, it is available to the doctors and nurses taking care of them. If a patient is in an accident far from home but her medical record is accessible because her digital record is available, she is still able to receive the best possible care even hundreds of miles away.

I might not be in a traditional nursing role, but I am still essential to patient care. I am able to pull up information for patients who have special needs due to a rare condition. I find information that is new to the field of medicine and only published a couple of months ago. I might not be in patient rooms on a daily basis, but I am still a nurse.

So, what makes a good informatics nurse? The same traits that make any nurse exceptional:

1. Caring nature: When you enter health IT, it’s important to remember that many of the professionals you are working with are just like many of our patients. They are learning a new skill. They are anxious that their world is being turned upside down. Remember to be kind and patient when working with these new “patients.”

2. Detail oriented: Every action in a medical career can have far-reaching consequences. Attention to detail is just as important when setting up the electronic medical record as it is when physically caring for patients. When we are working on the electronic medical record, what we set up touches every patient. It is important to keep the details in mind, because nothing should be left to chance in medicine.

3. Good communication skills: Solid communication skills are a basic skill for any career. But in nursing informatics, it’s one of the most important aspects of the job. The ability to communicate effectively with health professionals as well as technology professionals is essential. After all, you are the link between the two departments. Nurses need to be on top of their game to ensure that every person involved is heard and understood. A truly stellar informatics nurse is an advocate for both the clinicians and the IT staff.

4. Flexibility: A great nurse informaticist can roll with the punches. Even though IT is traditionally a Monday through Friday day job, healthcare is a 24/7 one. The people you are working with have responsibilities around the clock, and you should be available to support them. The patients and their families should come first, and we need to work around clinicians’ schedules.

5. Dedication: In nursing, circumstances are forever changing — and they’re hardly ever ideal. But when you work in medicine, patient needs are top priority and should always be at the forefront of everything we do. Successful nurses know that in order to provide the best care possible, they must be committed to continued education. They also must become leaders in their specialized field and dedicate themselves to teaching novice nurses in order to train the next generation of healthcare providers.

At the end of the day, I am happy and proud to call myself a nurse. Although my particular career path led me away from traditional patient care, my work in IT is essential to the healthcare landscape. I am part of a team that continues to push the line of innovation forward to make the patient experience a better one. After all, the world of medicine is constantly evolving, and technology is a huge part in that evolution. It’s an exciting time in the medical technology field, and I can’t wait to see where we are by my next class reunion.

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