Reader Questions About Nursing Informatics, Clinical Informatics, Health Informatics Part 1


I’ve been receiving interesting questions about different aspects of the informatics field from readers of this blog and since many of them are not covered in any of my other posts, I decided to share them on this first informatics FAQ.

In the meantime, take a look at the questions and answers here below, and if you happen to have a question in mind, which hasn’t been answered yet, feel free to contact me anytime.

Please note that the answers to these questions reflect my personal views, which are based on my experience in the field.

1. I would like to apply for (nursing) informatics jobs. Do you recommend any nursing informatics books that might get me ready for this field?

Although I believe that no book will get you fully ready for a job in informatics, skills in Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, basic database skills, and project management might come in handy in your day to day work and I highly recommend that you either improve on those skills or learn about them.

You can find tutorials online and there are tons of books about Microsoft Office. I personally like the books that have pictures in them and in the past, I did come across individuals who had the “teach yourself visually” books, which actually give you a good basic overview of Excel and Access or any other of the MS applications. I have spent a lot of time manipulating hospital data and having basic skills in excel and access has always helped me out to speed up the process when resolving certain issues.By the way, even though the latest version of MS office is 2010, many hospitals still use the 2007 version or the 2003 version, which has a very different graphical interface from 2007 and 2010.
Also, prospective future informatics candidates should have at least basic knowledge of project management and what it takes to implement a project.There are two great books on this subject: “The Nursing Implementation Guide” and “Project Management for Healthcare Information Technology”.Although the first book has “nursing” in the title, the concepts covered apply to many other applications in the health informatics field.

If I had to choose between these two books, I would STRONGLY recommend “The Nursing Informatics Implementation Guide” because it contains information that could help during job interviews, e.g. understanding the different phases of a project. In addition, the book covers some project management related material.

2. What’s the difference between health informatics, clinical informatics and nursing informatics?

I will probably have to write a post on this topic some day, as each of these disciplines required their own detailed definition.

To put it simply though, clinical and nursing informatics fall under the umbrella of health informatics, which integrates and merges information technology with all other types of health disciplines, such as pharmacy, nursing, public health, etc.

Clinical informatics is a specific branch of health informatics, and nursing informatics is another more specialized branch. I explored this topic in detail in my post, what’s the difference between nursing and clinical informatics?

3. Do you have to be a nurse to get into a nursing informatics program?

From what I have read and learned so far, yes, you need to be a registered nurse to get into a nursing informatics program.

In the other hand, a health informatics program can be completed by people with no nursing background. Nonetheless, best to check the requirements of the school program you’re interested in before you apply.

4. Do I need clinical experience for nursing informatics or for a clinical informatics job?

Yes. If the job is being advertised as nursing informatics, 110% guaranteed that they are not only looking for nurses, but also for somebody who has actual nursing clinical experience.

Otherwise, the job could be advertised as informatics specialist, informatics analyst, application analyst, application specialist, etc. Also, most clinical analyst jobs require some type of experience in the clinical field such as laboratory, pharmacy, radiology, physical therapy, etc.

Yet, what I want to emphasize is that you don’t have to have a clinical background to be in the health informatics field, unless that specific job titles require clinical experience.

You could easily have a computer science degree or information systems degree or even a business degree and you could be working as an application analyst in the health informatics field. Hope that makes sense!

5. What’s the difference between clinical analyst and application analyst?

This is a very good question and this varies greatly by employer. I actually held these two titles in the past and personally I didn’t see much difference in my responsabilitie.

However, one employer specifically said that as an application analyst, I didn’t have to have clinical experience for the job, while for a clinical analyst, that specific employer was looking for clinical experience.

Another employer explained the role as, “the application analyst is in charge of one or two specific applications in our department, while the clinical analyst has a more generic role and is also in charge of meeting with the users for upgrades, enhancements, support, etc.”

For example, as an application analyst you could be put in charge of the radiology application. Then, your job would be to configure, test, write training materials on the application, provide others with support, etc.

A clinical analyst might also do the same thing, in addition to doing more general things like running meetings with users to decide upgrades/changes to one application or different applications, act as a contact person between clinicians and application analyst, and possibly run some project management tasks. This person could also meet with the application analyst to go over changes users want/need to the application.

I want to emphasize that different employers define these roles differently in lack of any standard definitions in the industry. Therefore, read carefully the job description for that specific position.

Chris (25 Posts)

Chris Smith works as a clinical analyst consultant with 9 years of experience working in the nursing informatics field. He started this blog to help others learn more about nursing informatics because he got tired of reading a lot of misinformation about this field on the web. You can connect with Chris on Google+


8 Responses to Reader Questions About Nursing Informatics, Clinical Informatics, Health Informatics Part 1

  • I think you advice on knowledge in Microsoft Access and databases is very sound. I am finding the knowledge I have in this area to be invaluable and I am constantly seeking to learn more.

    • admin says:

      I really enjoy databases and this is one skill that has helped me a lot in the past. Is not really required, but it has made a difference in my work. Also, I’ve gotten a bit of respect when developers realized that even though I was an RN, I understood their database problems.

  • feda elgammal says:

    what’s the difference between clinical informatics and public health informatics?

    • admin says:

      what’s the difference between clinical informatics and public health informatics?

      To break down your question, keep in mind that informatics has anything to do with applying information processing and computer science to any field; that’s the simplest way to look at it.

      Public heath deals with threats to health to the population in general. When I think of public health, organizations like the CDC, WHO, PHS, etc. come to mind.

      Thus, public health informatics applies to people working in these agencies or public health setting and typically, they apply specific processes to collect/analyze data by using computer technology.

      For example, think of the flu shot. Statistics are gathered by different health departments and these statistics are somehow parsed through some system to arrive at some data that can be used in determining what flu strain might affect people the coming year. That is just one example, but the point is that this data is now (for the most parts) handled by computers and that’s how informatics comes into play. It used to be that such data was collected by paper and kept in files somewhere, but now things are done with computers.

      Thus, as public health informatics professional, you could be involved in many aspects in the process of this data collection/analysis for public health agencies/employers.

      Clinical informatics on the other hand, deals with clinical settings such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, health clinics, etc. You’re collecting/entering data that is specific to a patient’s stay in a hospital, clinic, etc, and as an informaticist in this area, you use applications specific to this area that help you in this process. You don’t walk into the CDC building to have your vital signs taken, but the vital signs taken in a hospital, could be send to the CDC to analyze specific trends; and obviously the applications used to analyze the data by the CDC, is not the same application used in a hospital or clinic. But you can see how both fields intersect.

      Hence, I would say the difference between the two is in the specialization of the setting you’re in.

      Is kind of like saying, what’s the difference between a business accountant and a healthcare accountant? They both deal with money and taxes, but they specialize in different fields.

      I can’t really do justice to public health informatics in one paragraph, but you can check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_health_informatics

      Hope that helps!

      Chris

  • Karen Woodson says:

    I have been accept to Grand Canyon University for a Masters in Health infomatics. I am now a working RN for 13years and I am in my 50’s. I am concerned about spending so much money for this degree when there may be other ways to reach the same goal. Can you advise?

    • admin says:

      Yes, usually many of us got in the field without having to get a master’s degree. My advice would be to get involved in informatics, update your resume, and then apply for jobs. And yes, the field is more competitive now, but that doesn’t mean you have to get a master’s degree to enter the field. Even now, many have entered the field and continue to enter the field using their super-user experience or their involvement in informatics. Something else to consider, many schools don’t tell you that that employers want candidates with experience because after all, many of these schools are in the process of churning out degrees. I have emailed you more details in response to your question.

  • Paul says:

    I just read your blog post and I recently passed the LVN board exam in November of last year. My mother who is a Pediatrician is suggesting that I take Health Information Technology. Would getting a Health Information Technology degree whether it be by community or online college be helpful in going after Nursing or Clinical Informatics? PS: Thank you for writing this blog and opening my eyes to something that I had dreamed about three years ago but never thought was possible.

    • admin says:

      You don’t necessarily need another degree to get a job in informatics. For your case, I would concentrate on getting some clinical experience, getting involved in informatics in your facility as super user (or any other role available in your facility), and then after a year, update your resume, apply for jobs. Many hospitals now will say that they want a nurse to have at least 2 years of clinical experience, but this is not set in stone. And of course, if you are good in school and classes come easy to you and you have the money for that extra degree, then do it cause it will look nice on your resume. But be aware that you don’t need it to get a job in informatics.

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