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Big Data & Science for Transforming Health Care

HIMSS Clinical Informatics Insights

I am assuming that you, like me, attend a number of conferences each year. Some are good, some are OK, and few are memorable. But one of the more memorable events I attended this year was the 2014 Nursing Knowledge: Big Data & Science for Transforming Health Care Conference, hosted by the University of Minnesota, School of Nursing. This conference brought together more than 70 stakeholders from nursing practice, education, information technology and organizations that represent professional nursing, informatics and standards. And it has a lofty goal: Advance a national plan for capturing nursing information for big data research aimed at identifying effective care interventions and improving patient outcomes.

This second annual Nursing Knowledge conference focused on the transformation of nursing practice, research and education. As described in the conference proceedings, we are in an era of big data; large databases of health information are being amassed within electronic health records systems and related repositories making them available to be analyzed to ascertain patterns, trends and evidence that will guide patient care. However, for research to accurately reflect all factors influencing patient outcomes, the data must include nursing, as well as medical and other interprofessional information. The Nursing Knowledge conferences aim to develop and foster implementation of a plan that will ensure nursing information is captured – and to integrate the concepts and application of big data into nursing practice, research and education through collaboration.

So, you might wonder; what made this conference so memorable? The compelling takeaway for me was experiencing the commitment of each attendee to leverage our collective resources and move nursing forward into the future. Data is at the core of what nurses do; we spend an inordinate amount of time documenting the patient care that we deliver. We have moved from paper-based systems to electronic health record systems, but we still struggle to get sharable, comparable data out of those systems to inform outcomes. Nurses were among the first professional groups to standardize our terminology. But the pure number of terminology options makes such standardization difficult. It was remarkable to observe the organizational walls come down at this conference and to see consensus build regarding how we can work together to advance progress and ensure that nursing data become sharable and comparable.

It was also heartening to learn of the progress that has been made since the 2013 Nursing Knowledge conference. Year one participants presented actions taken to integrate nursing information into electronic health records systems; implement standardized language to represent nursing diagnoses, interventions and outcomes of care; modify and standardize nursing informatics education to build understanding and competencies; and influence policy and standards for documenting and coding nursing information in health care knowledge systems.

Three panels were featured on the second day: advancing nursing information in electronic health records in practice settings; ensuring that nursing e-measures are included in interprofessional national and international standards; and using sharable and comparable nursing data in research and quality improvement. Following each of the panel presentations, participants joined small work groups to brainstorm 2014 strategies and action steps. Each of the groups then presented their recommended “actions” to the entire assembly.

The grand finale of the conference was an “action auction,” led by Roy Simpson, DNP, RN, DPNAP, FAAN, vice president, nursing informatics, at Cerner Corporation. Attendees bid on actions they were willing to advance to ensure sharable and comparable nursing information is included in electronic health records – and that all aspects of the nursing profession are knowledgeable about the potential of big data to transform practice, research and education.

The commitment of each attendee to advance this effort in addition to their ‘day job’ is commendable.  From educators, to policy makers, to executives from vendor and provider organizations – each participant was engaged and pledged to do their part to move the effort forward. And that is why the event is so memorable. Nurses are collaborative by nature, and dedicated to making a difference for patients. True to nature, every conversation during the proceedings was focused on that goal. At the end of the process, I am confident that we will make huge strides towards the transformation of nursing practice, research and education to improve patient outcomes.

About the Contributor
Joyce Sensmeier, MS, RN-BC, CPHIMS, FHIMSS, FAAN, is Vice President of Informatics at HIMSS where she oversees clinical informatics, standards and interoperability. Sensmeier also serves as President of IHE USA. An internationally recognized speaker and author of multiple book chapters, articles and white papers, Sensmeier was recognized in 2010 as a fellow with the American Academy of Nursing, a credential held by 2,000 nursing leaders throughout the world. She is co-founder and ex-officio chair of the Alliance for Nursing Informatics, a global collaboration of 30 distinct nursing informatics groups that represents a unified voice for nursing informatics professionals. Sensmeier earned a BSN from Elmhurst College and a master's degree in Nursing Administration from St. Xavier University, both in Illinois.