Nursing Informatics Key Role in Defining Clinical Workflow, Increasing Efficiency and Improving Quality

Nurse informaticist helping define clinical workflow

COVID-19 has underscored the crucial role of nursing informatics as healthcare organizations have faced delivering care during these unprecedented times.

For decades, nursing informatics specialists have integrated nursing science with information and analytical sciences to identify, define, manage and communicate data, informatics, knowledge and wisdom. Nurse informaticists are now advancing their focus beyond EHR implementation and successfully innovating change as analysts, educators, software engineers, policy developers and operational owners to help advance healthcare.

During the pandemic, nursing informatics specialists have played a key role in establishing new clinical workflows, increasing operational efficiencies and improving care quality for their patients.

The HIMSS Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey indicates that over two-thirds (68%) of the survey respondents work for a hospital or multi-facility health system in an informatics role. Healthcare systems that have infused this nursing specialty into their healthcare workforce are well-positioned to navigate the challenges in expanding and applying new technologies to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clinical Workflows

Although telehealth was already in use in some healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for ambulatory and inpatient virtual care visit consults. In collaboration with program leaders, clinicians and information services, nurse informaticists—who understand the current practice in ambulatory and hospital clinical settings—have, in many cases, enabled health systems to accelerate telehealth solutions to keep patients and clinicians safe.

Nursing informatics specialists translate the virtual care technical and operational requirements, evaluate the core tools, develop project plans, and implement and support the system. Examples of new technologies and workflows implemented during COVID-19 have included solutions to schedule and virtually provide patient care. Further, some healthcare systems have deployed smart devices for person-to-person connective platforms in telehealth.

Operational Efficiencies

Nurse informaticists collaborate to define requirements, design, build, and implement workflow and technology solutions. Having informaticists as part of the team is beneficial for health system leaders and clinicians to promote the adoptions of new processes, as nurses are often natural change agents and can enable change management in a culture.

With their background and experience in patient care, nurse informaticists recognize the challenge and necessity of collecting meaningful data to properly deliver care. The specialty of nursing informatics has played a critical role in increasing operational efficiencies, especially in designing and building COVID-19-specific functionality in the EHR and other technology applications. For example, nurse informaticists are using their skills to streamline specific infectious disease history documentation for quicker triage. This has led to revamping documentation in EHRs and pre-screening patients before ambulatory on-site visits and entry to the hospital to proactively identify potentially infected patients and direct them to the appropriate care, as well as limit these patients from visiting our facilities for face-to-face appointments to protect patients, physicians, nurses and staff.

During the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare systems' efforts to stop the virus' spread and protect patients and employees are top priorities. Nurse informaticists assist in the deployment of telehealth and teleworking strategies for hospitals to maintain operations and keep people out of hospital facilities as much as possible. For instance, with executive leadership and informaticists on board to understand and define clinical workflows, errors and adverse events have been avoided—resulting in significant cost savings during the rapid negotiation and execution of telehealth solution contracts.

Quality of Care

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are critical in delivering care and keeping patients and caregivers safe. With quickly developed technologies, nurse informaticists ensure that the essential tools are tested and assessed to mitigate telehealth's unintended consequences. Specifically, nurse informaticists uphold organizational privacy and security programs of applied telehealth technologies, adhere to HIPAA mandates, and ensure appropriate use of personal health information to meet evolving regulations.

Nursing informatics plays a critical role in implementing telehealth technologies designed to benefit patient-family and patient-clinician connected platforms in the inpatient setting. These technologies provide better patient experience with COVID-19 patients when family members are not allowed in patient care settings. Examples of telehealth technologies include implementing devices with video capability to provide human interaction, and conversational agent intelligence solutions such as voice-controlled virtual care assistants to further connectedness with patient care staff and family.

The specialty of nursing informatics has demonstrated its value for developing best practices and new processes in the fight against COVID-19. In this era of healthcare transformation, partnering with nurse informaticists benefits health systems in establishing new clinical workflows, increasing operational efficiencies and improving care quality.

The views and opinions expressed in this content or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

Online Journal of Nursing Informatics

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Updated April 20, 2021