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Informatics training for nurses improves patient care

Photo: Informatics training for nurses improves patient care
With the announcement of a nation-wide rollout of patient controlled electronic health records (or MyHealth Record) for every Australian by 2018 and the Australian Digital Health Agency’s strategic plan release for 2018-2022, the move to integrated electronic health records calls for a rethink of our understanding of what it means to be a nurse in an increasingly digital environment.

In August this year the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA), Nursing Informatics Australia (NIA) and the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) partnered to develop the nursing informatics position statement which advocates for the instrumental role of nurses in digitally transforming healthcare, making the call to optimise the use of information and technology to enable better patient care.
Tasneem Islam is a PhD nursing student at Deakin University and committee member at Nursing Informatics Australia. She is using her studies on bridging the translation gap between health technologies and their users to better inform the committee on informatics in practice.

‘I’m very pleased to be able to do so in my upcoming role as an electronic medical record [EMR] theatre clinical applications specialist at Monash Health,’ Tasneem says.

Informatics ideally allows nurses to do what they do best – care for their patients safely. Technology plays a big part this, by allowing health care to be more accessible and patient-centred. For nurses, technology would ideally reduce workload and allow clinicians to adopt a more proactive role with the assistance of real-time data. For patients, telehealth services can make health care more convenient and personalised than ever.

‘Informatics is a very diverse specialty and I love that. You’ll get to collaborate with a range of professions and different disciplines - anywhere on the spectrum from pure clinician to pure IT. We want to avoid having silos of data where organisations can’t share and end up collecting the same data twice. Improving interoperability - getting systems to talk to each other - will help with this.’

However figuring out how to manage and utilise the masses of data that electronic systems produce can be an issue. There is a lot of potential to gain new insights into the way health care is delivered and in improving patient safety using data mining and big data, but we first need a nursing workforce able to work with electronic data effectively. Tasneem said fragmentation of data can happen due to lack of interoperability, which leads to information being lost.

‘My research found that nurse managers often gathered data from various electronic sources to achieve one particular task, and in some cases kept their own records rather than trust the data in the system. We need to better streamline the process so that nurses spend less time finding the right data and more time analysing it and feeding it back to staff to improve practice.’

While some nurses are very comfortable with electronic systems and others don’t feel confident or trained well enough to use them to their full potential, Tasneem says the lack of consistency is a major reason why the nursing informatics position statement was created. ‘I hope that [the position statement] will allow nurses to advocate for informatics integration at any level knowing that they will be supported. They can use the statement to assess their own workplaces and assist with the change process accordingly. It will also give nurses an idea of what health services and governing bodies should be working towards in terms of informatics.’

Health professionals can undertake postgraduate training in health informatics through a number of Australian universities either through specialist graduate programs in health informatics programs online at University of Tasmania, Griffith University and Western Sydney University, as well as informatics units through Swinburne University, Deakin University and Monash University as part of their general postgraduate health courses. Nurses and clinicians seeking formal qualifications can become a CHIA (Certified Health Informatician Australasia) through HISA. Support is also provided by HISA and its special interest group Nursing Informatics Australia, as well as the Australasian College of Health Informatics.

Pure informatics as an undergraduate program is an option these days, with many universities offering bachelor degrees in health informatics. Undergraduate programs are beginning to reflect the growing importance of informatics and recognise it is a specialty no different from the traditional clinical specialties we know like cardiac or paediatric nursing. It’s still emerging and growing in Australia, so structured career pathways are under development. Tasneem however, has had the most success in keeping her feet in both kinds of theatres – hospital and university – and by attending events put on by local informatics interest groups.

‘While in my graduate year, I’d stumbled upon the term ‘informatics’ online and I quickly recognised that it was the field for me. Over the next three years, I maintained an interest and tried to attend local informatics events whenever I could. I finished honours and after another year of splitting my time between theatre and research assistant work, successfully applied for a PhD scholarship,’ she says.

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Sharon Smith

Sharon Smith writes freelance articles as a medical, science and technology specialist. She is researching health journalism at Griffith University and lives mostly on Twitter @smsmithwriter (and would love to hear from you).