A Nursing Informatics Leader Parses the Challenges of EHR Optimization | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

A Nursing Informatics Leader Parses the Challenges of EHR Optimization

May 9, 2017
by Heather Landi
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In conjunction with National Nurses Week, HIMSS’ Joyce Sensmeier, R.N., reflects on the role of nursing informatics in a post-EHR implementation era
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As more healthcare delivery organizations undergo clinical transformation processes, the demand for nurses with informatics training and expertise continues to gain momentum. In fact, a 2015 nursing informatics report by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) found that informatics nurses were widely seen as bringing value to the use of clinical systems and technologies at their healthcare organizations. Respondents to that survey indicated that nursing informaticists bring greatest value to the implementation phase (85 percent) and optimization phase (83 percent) of clinical systems process. Informatics nurses also were viewed as having a direct positive impact on the quality of care patients receive.

In addition, the 2017 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey conducted by HIMSS continues to suggest that nurse informaticists play a crucial role in the development, implementation, and optimization of clinical applications, including nursing clinical documentation, computerized practitioner order entry (CPOE) and electronic health records (EHRs).

In conjunction with National Nurses Week (May 6-12), Healthcare Informatics Associate Editor Heather Landi caught up with Joyce Sensmeier, R.N., vice president of informatics at HIMSS North America, to discuss the evolving and expanding role of nurse informaticists. Sensmeier shares her perspective on how nurse informaticists are uniquely positioned at the intersection of IT and patient care, making them indispensable to health systems trying to realize value from health IT investments and achieve improved outcomes.

What are some of the biggest trends that were identified in the 2017 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey?

One of the things that jumped out at me was a change in the reporting structure. Nursing informatics has been around since the early 1990s. I was a part of that grassroots wave, leveraging nurses that had an interest in technology and using them to begin to implement EHR systems. Back then, many of us reported up through nursing, and then it seemed like there was a trend with more reporting up through IT. Now there’s still those two branches, but there’s more reporting up to corporate. So, it’s become more of an overarching role, as opposed to either siloed in nursing and IT. To me, that really speaks to a maturing of the specialty, which I’m pleased to see.

Another trend we’re seeing is that we’re pretty much done with first wave of EHR implementations. And now, while sometimes those systems are getting replaced, upgraded, but even more so, optimized. The nurse informaticists are working more on refining the implementations and getting the workflow more aligned and more efficient using the systems. There also is a need to make sure the structure enables us to get outcomes and that can come with issues such as, how the data is recorded, or if there are standards used, and even the structure of the database and being able to finally get value out of the EHRs. So it’s not just ‘Okay now we have the EHR,’ but now it’s ‘Okay, now that we got it, what do we do with it, and how do we leverage it to really demonstrate value-based care?’

Joyce Sensmeier, R.N.

How do you see the nursing informatics role evolving?

There is an increasing awareness of the need for someone with both a clinical background as well as a technology background and with that understanding and expertise. There really is growing recognition of the specialty of the nurse informaticist and the special expertise that nurse has to really improve the systems, to refine them, to leverage them, make them more efficient. So it’s more of a maturing of the specialty; more nurses in those informatics roles are master’s prepared and they are getting certification, so they are able to demonstrate the expertise that they have gained over time in their tenure.

Have the responsibilities and requirements of nurse informaticists changed?

I would say there have been quite a few changes. In the beginning, which is, again, decades ago, back in the 1990s, it was thought that when we were implementing technology, we wanted to make sure that we had people with an understanding of the impact on patient care. So that’s why nurses were really recruited into roles that they weren’t necessarily equipped for, and I’ll include myself in that. So we had to learn on the job and grab information wherever we could and really begin to network with each other to learn how to do that in an optimal way. So here we are 2017 and what we saw in our survey was that the nurses are much more educated as there are informatics programs throughout the country, master’s levels and doctorate level and beyond. Also, the specialty is not just hospital-centric; nurses are working in informatics in academia and research and policy. So, there is a maturing of the roles that the informatics nurse can play. Also, there are certification programs for a specialty in nursing informatics and more nurses are seeking certification.

The other important thing is, in the beginning I think there was this idea that nurse informaticists would be focused on nursing systems, but now that role is really being used for all types of systems. And, we saw that in the survey as well—implementing EHRs, implementing clinical systems, but also working on solving interoperability problems and doing research across informatics and working with our other clinical partners, such as physicians and pharmacists, to move the bar forward in informatics.


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