Nursing perspective: Informatics in nursing

What is informatics in nursing?

According to the American Nurses Association, 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.”

Why nursing informatics is key in medical technology

Nurses often express two main reasons for pursuing a career in nursing: caring for patients and making a difference in patients’ lives. Managing technology doesn’t make the list, yet 99% of nurses interact with some form of it during their daily shift activities. Consider that the average ICU patient in a nurse’s care can be connected to multiple different medical devices at the same time, including a patient monitor, ventilator, IV pumps, balloon pump, etc. If that isn’t challenging enough, the nurse also needs to understand how these complex medical technologies intersect while providing direct patient care. Healthcare IT developers should ponder this question, “How can we best help nurses tackle complex medical challenges, provide direct patient care, and not fight technology?”

Most device manufacturers assume that nurses are adequately trained on every piece of equipment before using it. When learning new devices, nurses often rely on their innate ability to “figure it out” based on their knowledge of similar devices or peer-to-peer instruction. At best, the technology is intuitive and easy to navigate. At its worst it’s overly complex, causing the nurse to abandon the technology altogether. The hospital environment is stressful. Layer in the additional pressure of learning/using new technology and it becomes a matter of when, not if, medical errors will occur.

At Spok, we know that adopting new technologies can be a challenge. We’re committed to helping our customers implement solutions every step of the way. But long before we put our technology in the hands of nurses we go further. We consult with nurses and other clinicians to ensure our design fits their needs. Often, those clinicians are nursing informaticists.

How nursing informatics helps develop technology

In today’s world, ongoing medical research and technology innovations continue to advance the healthcare environment at an accelerated rate. However, it’s important to strike a balance between healthcare practice and healthcare innovations. Nurse informaticists can work with technology developers to help answer, “Is this technology solving a problem? Or is the technology searching for a problem to solve?” The goal is to develop technology to solve an existing problem to both advance healthcare and ensure the technology won’t be underutilized or abandoned.

When businesses begin developing new products or services, they must understand the following:

  1. The care environment where the product or service will be used
  2. The users of the product or service

Developers may be tempted to assume that all care environments and/or clinical personas are similar, yet nothing could be further from the truth. While there may be some levels of commonality, there are distinct variations that need to be accounted for during product development. Nurse informaticists can help with this process.

Technology teams need to understand the problem that they are solving (seen and unseen). To do this, the team could work with a nurse informaticist or another clinical expert to arrange a site visit of the environment and shadow/interview the users. During the visit, it’s helpful to take notes, capture pictures (with permission), diagram room layouts, etc. followed by a debrief. Immersing themselves in this process will help developers have clear and deeper insights into the existing problems—ensuring that their technology fits the environment, addresses the user needs, and solves the correct problem.

At Spok, we go above and beyond this process to ensure our products solve today’s communication challenges faced by hospitals and health systems (read about our new partnership with Mayo Clinic).

How nursing informatics helps improve technology

As technology moves through the development process, developers must continue to seek guidance from end-users by using low and high-fidelity prototypes and asking follow-up questions.  If developers truly “listen” to what the users are saying as they use the equipment, they will truly comprehend the obstacles that they are encountering. For example, if a user is struggling to use new technology, it’s important for the developers to remove the obstacle or make the design more intuitive. The good news is that this process is iterative, not singular. Technology creators who continue to ask the tough questions and are open to hear what the users are telling them will be the winners in the technology game. The goal of this process is to prevent the technology from producing negative repercussions caused by a misunderstood or ambiguous design component.

Ultimately, understanding the care environment and users is the key to success. The goal for technology design and implementation is to make the user’s job easier and better. Nursing informaticists can help guide the process to ensure the technology is intuitive, solves the right problems, and doesn’t negatively impact workflows. Simply put, we can help ensure technology is “an extension of the user’s hand.”

Nursing informaticists understand how to help technology developers create products that will be used by clinicians. It’s important to develop products that are needed—not what is perceived as innovative. As a clinician working in technology, there is no greater reward than solving the right problem, listening to users, and seeing technology help make someone’s job easier.