The health care industry is shifting its focus from volume to value, rewarding health care providers who offer higher quality, more efficient care. The goal is a transition from an outdated model focused on symptoms to one focused on the patient, improving overall population health through disease prevention and customized care.
Many health systems are adopting new technology to enable this evolution. Electronic health records (EHRs) allow health care providers to digitally store patient health information from multiple sources. Nurse informaticists, an emerging profession at the intersection of technology and health care, help facilitate this data sharing across health care teams, enabling a more patient-centric, customized approach to care.
Seventy-five percent of health care providers would attribute improved patient care to EHRs, according to a 2012 study by the National Center for Health Statistics. Dr. Toni Hebda, professor in the Master of Science in Nursing degree program at Chamberlain College of Nursing, says nurse informaticists help make this possible.
“Nurse informaticists streamline information sharing allowing care teams of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to work together more closely,” she explains. “Seamless function of EHRs means less time charting in records, more time caring and advocating for patients and improved continuity of care.”
Emmanuel Patrick Palma Jr., a registered nurse, is an implementation manager at a leading health care system north of Chicago. He works with an integrated EHR system now used in 70 percent of U.S. hospitals that no longer use paper charts to deliver patient care.
“I like to be the bridge between the nursing and IT sides of health care, knowing how to clinically and technically operate within the system,” he says. “Patients appreciate that with EHRs, they can go to their primary care physician or the emergency room and all of their health care information is available to the nurses and physicians. The care they receive is targeted to address their unique medical history and long-term wellness.”
Like many nurse informaticists, Palma began his career as a registered nurse before the informaticist role was formalized. He had a solid understanding of technology and assisted with EHR integration within the scope of his daily work.
Palma quickly became an expert on informatics but lacked the education required for a promotion within the organization. For this reason, he decided to pursue his Master of Science in Nursing at Chamberlain, which offers an informatics specialty track online so students can continue to work while they earn their degree.
According to a recent Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society survey of nursing informatics professionals, 70 percent of respondents have titles that specify an informatics position. The growing formalization of the role is also reflected in informaticists’ education: two-thirds have post-graduate degrees in informatics and 28 percent have a master’s or doctorate degree in informatics. Subsequently, nursing informatics salaries are rising. The average nursing informatics salary grew from $69,500 in 2004 to $100,717 in 2014.
After graduating with his master’s in October of 2013, Palma is prepared to sit for the national certification exam, which he will take to become fully credentialed and able to take on more formal informatics responsibilities.
“My nursing education at Chamberlain taught me that change happens every day; the only constant in life is change,” Palma says. “A nursing informaticist is a change agent who adapts to the transforming technology at hand to advance patient care and improve outcomes. Accept the change, embrace the change and advocate for the change.”