What do Informatics Nurses actually do?


On the previous post where I discussed what nursing informatics is, I gave a broad overview of how an application is implemented, and how an analyst is involved in this process, and in this post, I’ll give more specific details.

Do keep in mind though, that within this field, there are many roles a person can have, such as being a trainer, a project manager, a project design analyst, an application/project architect, an application consultant, and even a programmer, among many others.

And for almost all position, as I explain in the bottom of the post and in the comments below, you don’t need to know coding/programming to be in nursing informatics or clinical informatics.

And this is not just limited to nursing informatics. Somebody with the title of clinical analyst can do the same, the only difference being that they don’t necessarily have to have a nursing degree. Nonetheless, all these roles participate in one or in all the cycles discussed below.

Software Development Life Cycle

In real life, this whole process follows closely what is known as the software development life cycle, which is made up of roughly 6 stages: Requirements Analysis, Design, Testing, Training, Implementation, and Maintenance/Support.

I have seen many arguments about this process, so for further details, you can google “systems development life cycle” or “software development life cycle” and you can find more details about the specifics of the cycle stages.

What’s important to understand is that within those stages of the cycle, an informatics nurse, who can also have the title of a (clinical) analyst, can play many roles.

It Starts With Going From Paper To an EMR

For example, if a department within a hospital wants to start the process of documenting their paper records using what is known as an EMR (Electronic Medical Records), they first have to come to an agreement as to what they want to move from paper to the EMR.


But to do this, they might need to know what specifically the system can do for them, and this is where an informatics nurse can help in the process by knowing the EMR application, and thus having the ability to guide the users to make the right decisions.

For instance, the users might want to keep track of the total time a person spends providing specific care to a patient across different departments, but the EMR might not have the capability to do this.

Hence, it is the role of the informatics nurse to come up with a solution to this problem, either by contacting the vendor of the EMR with an enhancement request (which might take months if not years), or simply by coming with an alternative workflow to solve the issue.

What Happens In Analysis/Design Phase

In the example above, which merges the requirement analysis and design phase of a project, an informatics nurse organizes meetings where users provide data, which the nurse analyst will then analyze and use to configure the application accordingly.

During these meetings, the informatics nurse or clinical analyst, will usually give a demo of what the application does. He/she will answer questions about the application, and then the analyst will collect data of how the department functions. This data is known as the workflow of the department.

Once the analyst understands the workflow of the department, he/she will make recommendations on how to best configure the application to meet the needs of the users.

Typically the department gives input if the proposed workflow will work or not, and this is what the meetings are for: to work the design of the application.

Depending on the scope of the project one analyst could be involved in this specific role, or many times there are other analysts helping out in this process.

Configuring The Application

During the configuring phase of the project, the analyst takes the data collected in the previous phase, and using proprietary tools, the analyst configures the application to satisfy the user needs. This process might take weeks, and more than one analyst could be involved. Application configuration varies by vendor, and while some vendors have very easy tools to use, others are very complex.

Testing

Once the application is configured, the analyst will test his/her module of the application to see if it works.

Usually, several modules are being implemented, and when each and every module has been tested, that’s when integration testing takes place.

This is the process where all modules are tested together. For example, a patient is registered in the registration module, then the patient is scheduled using the scheduling module, and then the patient appears in a tracking board from where the patient is “admitted.”

As it can be seen, integration testing combines all these processes to make sure everything works together.

Training

When all the modules are functional, staff needs to be trained. Many times the person who configured the application happens to be the trainer of the users; yet, hospitals can also have one person dedicated to training staff on how to use an application.

This person is in charge of learning the application and then coming up with education material to train the different users on this application.

The title could be, informatics trainer, or clinical analyst trainer, but the goal is the same. Make sure that a high number of users successfully learn the application.

Training Is Not As Simple…

Although the role of a trainer looks easy to do, there are many things that could happen to add stress to the job.

One time, for instance, one of the user groups I had to train was a group of surgeons. This was a challenging group to train because many of them arrive at the hospital very early in the morning, and many of them simply say they don’t have the time to learn the application.

Furthermore, as part of the job role you might have to turn in solid percentage numbers of the number of users that were trained in the application, so as a trainer, many times you have to come up with creative ways to make sure that most of the users show up to your class, and then actually learn in class.

Go Live And Support

The last phase of the project is implementation and support. During this phase the application is “turned on” to the users, and this is known as the “go live.” Some also call it, “conversion.” The whole go live phase is coordinated by the analyst and other members of the project, such as the project manager, IT director, etc. Everything is planned out months before, and different members of the team are assigned specific tasks prior to the go live, and during the go live.

There is a support team which takes “go live issues” and this team is usually made up of the analysts that configured the application. Their role is to solve the issues that may occur, or escalate them to the proper person if needed. While for many this is the exciting part of the project, for others it is simply the most stressful part of the project.

All Phases Done By One Person?

The phases discussed above might be specifically assigned to one person. If you work in a smaller hospital, you could just be in an informatics department taking part in the implementation of the whole project.

Larger hospitals, however, have specific teams that are assigned to different phases of the project. For example, one analyst might be responsible for the analysis/design, while another one will just do the configuration and testing, and another one will do the training. It all varies by employer, but the roles of an informatics nurse or the role of a clinical analyst varies by each phase of the project!

Many times though, one analyst might be in charge of it all, but this could be more fun as your role would vary depending on where the project is, but at the same time, if training, for example, is not what you enjoy, when this part of the project takes place, you might find this very stressful. However, by participating in all aspects of the project, you might get a better idea of what you enjoy the most in each project, and then you can maybe find a job that is specific in that area.

Who Hires For These Jobs?

Also, work is not limited to hospitals or clinics. You could also be hired by a vendor, and within that vendor’s employment hierarchy, you could be a consultant. You could travel to many hospitals in the country and even outside the country to implement a specific solution for a vendor. As a consultant, your role could be either to design how the solution would interact for one hospital or for many hospitals within a network, or to be the person in charge of actually configuring the solution to meet the requirements of the client.

Do I Have To Know How To Program?

One aspect of the role that I didn’t yet address is that of programming. I’ve been asked or heard those wanting to explore informatics, if they will have to do computer programming. And the answer to that is, not necessarily.

Many of the roles discussed above require little programming or computer coding at all, but I have met some nurses that do like programming and they might get involved in writing scripts for a hospital or developing large applications for vendors.

Typically though, it helps to know some basic programming theory, but it is not really required for many of these roles because for most roles you’ll  be configuring an application in proprietary tools which you’re trained to use.

Also, the same applies to computer hardware. In these roles you’re not expected to know how to assemble a computer.

Most hospitals are known to have a different staff which specializes in installing computers, printers, routers or any other computer hardware.

Nonetheless, if your passion is programming, and you want to do a job which involves assembly language for example, then no doubt you might need to know more about computer hardware, but most analysts I know are not in the business of installing computers day in and day out.

Nursing informatics offers many career opportunities and rewards. It’s up to you to decide which one would suit you best if you are interested in pursuing a career in nursing informatics.

Other topics you might be interested in:

Interview tips and some Nursing Informatics interview questions

More Nursing Informatics interview questions

Questions to ask in a nursing informatics interview

Questions? Contact me through here!

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+


15 Responses to What do Informatics Nurses actually do?

  • Matt says:

    Thanks for the informative posts on your site. Last year my hospital implemented cerner and I was asked to help out with the user training as a super user. Do you think with this experience along I can apply for a job in nursing informatics or do I have to get a degree? Also, do you need to take programming classes or know how to program for jobs that are non-training jobs?

    • admin says:

      Hi Matt,

      Definitely. If you were a superuser and you want to apply for entry level jobs in the field, i would say, go for it! In other words, for an entry level position where a hospital or vendor is willing to train you, having had the experience of assisting as a super user is good enough experience to apply for many entry level jobs. The main point is doing a resume that points this out. What you don’t want to do is apply for a job and start out your resume with all your clinical nursing experience and leave the superuser experience at the end. (I’m assuming you’re a nurse.)

      As far as getting a degree—given that you do have some experience, if i were in your shoes, I would start applying for jobs. Obviously, do a good resume first. However, if you believe you might want to explore management roles, then a masters degree in informatics is a good idea.

      And about programming—no, you don’t need to take programming classes, unless you want to. Matter of fact, you can teach yourself some basic programming just to get yourself familiarized with the lingo. Most of the jobs out there require the person to configure the application using proprietary tools. Well, think of it this way: if you have a windows computer and you want to change the background picture on it, you don’t have to write a program to do this. You simply go to the control panel or do a right click, and then you change the background picture through a sequence of menus. Most vendors have similar interfaces to configure the application.

      Programming is good if you want to further delve into writing reports, or get a programming job (then you do need to take classes in programming) but for most entry level jobs, programming is not necessary, although it might look nice on a resume. However, most likely you won’t be programming for most jobs that require you to configure the application, or train in the application. But having an understanding of the logic of programming is a good thing. However, it is my experience that most nurses in this field don’t spend time programming. Now,a programming class i would recommend.

  • Jasfer says:

    Good day. I am a Nurse. I find this post very helpful. Can I use this for my thesis proposal in my MAN degree?

  • aa says:

    I am exploring the route to nursing informatics. I currently work in a long term facility and we definitely need to convert our paper to electronic MAR. I work as a unit manager and my job will be less stressful if we use computer. I’m thinking of doing the graduate certificate first then proceed with the master’s. My major concern is if I will find a job in informatics even without the master’s degree.

    • admin says:

      My main advice to people going the certificate route is to make sure that the school that is offering it has some type of job placement service. I get some emails of people who have these certificates and even a master’s degree, and they cannot find jobs. Mainly because nowadays most hiring managers are looking for people who have some type of experience using an electronic medical record. This is why my number one advice is, make sure you have some type of experience with electronic charting if you’re planning the certificate route, or make sure that the school offers some type of job placement before you shell out any money for these programs.

  • AP.NY says:

    I am a QA Coordinator with 15 years clinical nursing experience and 3 years QA/IC experience. My hospital recently converted to EMR and I was one of the testers. I played a very important role in ensuring the CMS requirements for core measures, meaningful use… were captured. I work with IT on an ongoinging basic to ensure that we are up to date with all the regulatory agencies requirements. I am very comfortable and familier with different types of EMR. I believe my experience would make me a prime candidate for a position in IT. The issue i am dealing with is, i have no formal training in Informatics. Would you suggest i apply for an entry level position and work my way up ? . Thanks so much for all the valuable information you have posted. By the way , do you do resumes or can you recommend a person or website?

    • admin says:

      Given that you have helped in the implementation of an EMR at your hospital, I would say that is your formal training. So for your specific case, all you need to do is start applying for jobs. A lot of us in this field got started like you—we helped in an implementation, updated our resume, and applied for jobs. It is just recently that informatics programs have become popular but many in the field got jobs without “formal training.” And I’m qualifying formal training as a specific degree or certificate in something. And no, I don’t write resumes or know that somebody that does it, but might start a service to review resumes because we see plenty of terrible ones. Best of luck.

  • Nelly says:

    What is difference between health IT and Nursing Informatics?

    • admin says:

      Simply put, Health IT is about utilizing electronic health records (EHRs or EMR’s) instead of paper medical records to maintain people’s health information.

      Health IT is a broad term and under it, there are specific specialities like nursing informatics.

      For example, if you’re a dentist, and you put a computer record in your office, then that would fall under Health IT because dentistry falls under the healthcare field. However, you could also say that more specifically, that conversion process falls under dental informatics. Likewise, nursing informatics is just a specialty of health IT.

  • Trumi24 says:

    Hi. I graduated with a master’s in informatics over a year ago and I have not attempted to find a job in this field yet. Because I only have education and I lack experience, I have been too intimidated to do so. Your blogs provided me with the information and encouragement I needed. Thank you for the information and guidance.

  • Heather says:

    I have recnelty been looking into getting off the floor and exploring positon within companies that handle EMRs. Becoming a consultant, what is point of obtaining a informatics degree if I can still do the same process without it?

    • admin says:

      If you don’t have a background in healthcare, an informatics degree could give you the opportunity to interview for a job.

      Assuming that you already have a background in healthcare, there are master’s degrees out there like nursing informatics, and there are specific employers who want you have to have a master’s degree for a managerial position. However, many get promoted without having a master’s degree.

      Also, many believe that a master’s will give you a higher salary. This can go both ways: If you already have a position, and you get a master’s degree, it could very well be that your employer will reward you for your “added” qualifications/degree.

      However, if you go out in the job market looking for a new job, and you demand to be paid a higher salary because of your degree, an employer might simply select somebody else with the same qualifications, but without the degree.

      In the end, what really carries you the most in this profession, is the skills you bring to an employer.

  • CMGREEN says:

    I currently work as an LPN in a LTC facility and we’ve been doine EMR for two years. I recently started at ITT Tech for an assovciates degree in CNS. Will this afford me the oportunity to land a job in the Health Informatics field when I graduate?

    • admin says:

      the simple answer to your question is, sure, an associate’s degree in CNS could give you the opportunity to land a job in health informatics. But the best approach is to get involved in the field so that your resume stands out when compared to those who have no experience in the field.

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