In the nursing field, there’s an emphasis on care in the moment. Nurses consistently ask themselves, “What does a particular patient need right now to progress toward well-being?” That might mean a health assessment, medication administration or advice on certain lifestyle practices.
Yet, there’s great merit in combining the science of care with the science of data and information. This is the basis of nursing informatics. Students in the online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Public and Population Health program from Worcester State University gain skills in informatics and data science to improve nursing practice and health outcomes.
What Is Nursing Informatics?
As referenced by the American Nurses Association (ANA) in the book “Nursing Informatics: Scope and Standards of Practice, 2nd Ed,” nursing informatics is “the specialty that integrates nursing science with multiple information and analytical sciences to identify, define, manage and communicate data, information, knowledge and wisdom in nursing practice.”
Nursing informatics encompasses technology tools that help nursing professionals collect and analyze data to better serve patients in various communities. For example, these technology modalities include:
- Electronic health records (EHRs)
- Patient portals
- Mobile applications
- Telemedicine platforms
Informatics and Population Health
Informatics plays an integral role in population health, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as an “interdisciplinary, customizable approach that allows health departments to connect practice to policy for change to happen locally. This approach utilizes non-traditional partnerships among different sectors of the community – public health, industry, academia, health care, local government entities, etc. – to achieve positive health outcomes.”
Ultimately, the focus of population health is homing in on significant health concerns and addressing ways to allocate resources to overcome the problems that drive poor health conditions in any given population.
Informatics in Action
To illustrate the importance of informatics in patient care, particularly as it concerns nursing care, consider this scenario:
A patient lives with complications related to heart failure, hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes. When symptoms become debilitating, his partner calls for an ambulance or transports him to the emergency department. The patient is stabilized via appropriate treatments and sent home.
Why repeat this cycle when there are interventions that can prevent it? Understanding the pattern of symptom onset, acute treatments, and recurrence timeline helps nursing professionals interpret how to mitigate the underlying root of the condition. Then, nurses can advise different options to optimize patient monitoring. For example, they could recommend a weekly check-in to assess vitals via a remote monitoring device or telehealth visit. This routine checkup could prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency department.
With a comprehensive collection of patient data, nurses can also serve as a guidepost for healthier lifestyle habits that may prevent a severe event. For instance, proper nutrition and exercise recommendations might improve a patient’s condition and prevent future ER visits. Every piece of health data informs a patient’s optimal health strategy.
In the ideal future of informatics, healthcare professionals will move away from single-care events and focus on a holistic approach. This is captured by statements in American Nurse Journal:
“The shift away from episodic, event-driven care to care aimed at identifying and managing high-risk populations of patients using standards, evidence, communication, and engagement requires providers to rethink the role of health information technologies. […] Innovative technologies, supportive networks, and informatics tools will be used to promote interdisciplinary teamwork, more efficient workflows, and improved communications—as well as to engage and educate patients so they can attain a higher quality of life and better outcomes across a continuum of care and in the community.”
Informatics Knowledge Is Within Reach
Undoubtedly, emphasizing informatics requires a bit of a shift for nurses already in the field. Nurses can improve their knowledge and skills in informatics by pursuing an MSN in Public and Population Health degree online through Worcester State University.
This program’s curriculum is dedicated to educating nurses on the various aspects of public and population health, including informatics, such as the Informatics and Data Science for Population and Public Health course and the Population-Based Public Health Nursing Interventions course. An additional benefit of this comprehensive program is that students can complete it in as few as 18 months.