How Data Leads to Better Nursing: Improving Workflows and Patient Care

How Data Leads to Better Nursing: Improving Workflows and Patient Care

Whether nurses think their job includes data informatics or not, it does in one way or another. For almost any nurse, data is a touch point in their day, whether they work at the bedside, in an independent office, or a boardroom.ow-data-leads-to-better-nursing-improving-workflows-and-patient-care

“Data is critical,” says Andrew Awoniyi, ND, RN, NI-BC, education director and board member of the American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA). “It underlies everything we do.” When a fellowship experience revealed the way technology could have a positive and significant impact on healthcare, Awoniyi says he developed a new understanding of how nurses can use it. “It opened my eyes to how you deliver the best healthcare,” he says. 

Many nurses hear informatics and think it does not apply to their jobs, but the opposite is true, says Awoniyi. “There’s a school of thought that all nurses are nurse informaticists,” he says. “Everyone is using data whether they fully understand it or not.”

Often, a nurse’s day includes responsibilities unrelated to numbers or patterns in data. Still, those responsibilities and the equipment or directions they rely on are a direct result of information that has been collected and analyzed. 

It’s All About Data

“When a new initiative comes out, or there is a new process or new product, that is all because of data,” says Kathleen Ulanday, MBA, MHA, BSN, RN, NI-BC, CPHIMS, and a senior clinical informatics specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital. For example, a new process that aims to solve an identified workflow issue is often found because measurements indicate needed improvement. Once implemented, the new process will be measured as well. All the data produced during those assessments reveals patterns or other information that can influence everything from how nurses dispense medication to shift adjustments.

The most basic nursing process of identifying a problem, assessing what is being done, intervening, and evaluating all relies on some collection of information, Awoniyi says. Assessing a patient uses the data produced through vitals, lab results, and tests, so everyone from a bedside nurse to a chief nursing officer knows how to check those results to help direct patient needs. “Nursing is holistic, and everything we do around that involves data,” he says. “It is not foreign to us.”

Ideally, nurses work more efficiently when any change is implemented to improve an outcome because they gain fact-based information that can be applied broadly, says Ulanday. If a new process has a more significant positive impact on a cardiovascular patient population than a gastro one, there’s an opportunity to learn why. “Nurses might notice those patients go home quicker and ask why is that,” she says. That discrepancy can trigger a deeper investigation into new areas needing attention. 

Informatics Isn’t Just Computers

Nurses who are especially drawn to the idea of working as a nurse informaticist might be happy to know that gathering data doesn’t mean sitting in front of a computer all day. Data, Awoniyi says, has a way of helping nurses when the results are interpreted and applied. And with artificial intelligence leading to advances in medical robotics and more targeted applications, nursing informatics is advancing rapidly. It can be a significant factor in closing gaps in healthcare access. The recent expansion of telehealth shows how technology expands potential. As the population shifts and more people are living longer and with more complex conditions, data, says Awoniyi, can help close the gap in healthcare because it can offer healthcare in settings that are located far from high-tech hospitals.

While data is something that nurses can point to as proof of something working (or not), there’s another unexpected benefit to using data to help guide how nurses perform their jobs and care for patients in any setting. Compliance with a new process can improve a workflow, says Ulanday. When nurses see that improvement, their motivation and morale increase.

An In-demand Career Path

As data output grows, the industry needs nurses who use data efficiently and know how to interpret and apply the data to different nursing scenarios. “There’s a lot of data that is generated,” Awoniyi says, “and we must understand that.”

Whether they want to switch careers or not, Awoniyi recommends that nurses understand how and why technology is incorporated into healthcare processes and settings. “Be willing to contribute,” he says. Partner with other nurses, look at how new systems impact nursing workflows and offer feedback on what might improve the process or quality.

Informatics opens up nursing jobs for everything from a nursing informatics specialist or clinical informatics specialist to that of a professor or educator. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2022 Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey, 60 percent of the 1,118 respondents reported annual salaries of at least $100,000. The survey also showed how nursing informatics roles are positioned in organizations, with 34% of respondents reporting to information systems/technology, 33% to informatics, and 30% to nursing. Reflecting on this kind of role’s medical and technical aspects, most respondents said they report to two departments more often than just one.

How Data and Healthcare Work Together

Even as informatics helps nurses and patients, it does require time and investment, so backing from leadership is critical, say Awoniyi and Ulanday. At Texas Children’s Hospital, Ulanday says the Magnet® status of the hospital requires that the perspective and experiences of bedside nurses, who give hands-on patient care and know how a workflow is helping or not, are included in leadership’s decision-making.

Nurses who are interested in learning more can start by reaching out to their organization’s technical team to ask questions and gain insight into how technology impacts healthcare, says Ulanday. She says to join a professional organization like ANIA to hear about the latest developments and bring those back to leadership.

Ulanday says nurses know it takes time to learn and adapt to new technology, but they also find it will save them time in the long run. It also has a significant safety impact, as data can improve how something is done. Implementing a new workflow based on those findings can eliminate outdated processes and improve patient safety and outcomes.

“As we look to the future, data needs to be a critical part of that,” says Awoniyi. “Understand how data is collected, analyzed, and interpreted. It’s then about how to leverage that data to bring about change.”

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