This is the one thing all nurses need to know to future-proof their careers

Numbers are changing the game, especially in nursing. Learn how data can help you in your career.

This is the one thing all nurses need to know to future-proof their careers

Metrics. Analytics. Big Data. Intelligence.

The practice of mining, parsing and understanding data has been called many things throughout these technocratic times. In health care, the favored word is “informatics.”

Health care informatics, the discipline of analyzing aggregated health data to track and improve patient care and outcomes, has been around in some form since the dawn of computing. But the practice has come on strong in the last several years, and nurses are on the front lines.

“Nursing practice is driven by analytics,” says Ruth Tarantine, university dean of nursing at Colorado Technical University, adding that the entire protocol can now change based on metrics. And with advances in health information technology, it’s possible to find even deeper insights that can change the way nurses provide care.

But you’re the ones in the trenches; you don’t have time to look at spreadsheets? Do you? Should you? In a word: Yes. Check out why you should dive into the world of health care informatics right now.

You’ll no longer have to rely only on your instincts

As a nurse, you likely rely on instinct. A lot. And it’s great to lean on your experience. But now you have the ability to verify your hunches, Tarantine says.

Maybe you used to think that a full research study was needed to drive change. Now, you simply need to reach out to an informatics nurse specialist or their IT department to perform a query.

For example, one of the most important metrics tracked by health care organizations is readmissions within 30 days of discharge from an acute care facility. Nurses can use tools to assess electronic health record data and determine what risks patients have for congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, pneumonia, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which are used to track readmission rates.

“This problem is very complex, and nursing plays an important role in trying to reduce those rates” says Catherine Fant, graduate faculty member of the Kaplan University School of Nursing. “The data can be analyzed by nursing and appropriate discharge plans developed to try and reduce the likelihood of readmission.”

You’ll have an opportunity for new roles

Many nurses are intimidated by data collection and analytics, Tarantine says, but they’ve actually been feeding the data pipeline for decades as electronic medical records have become more common.

The more time spent with data, the better. Nurses who get comfortable enough with informatics could find themselves in entirely new careers. Informatics positions, such as nurse informaticist, nurse informatics analyst or chief nursing information officer, are opening up as a result of the data explosion going on in health care right now. “Because of the electronic medical reports, we have the ability to analyze data quickly and change practice based on analytics,” Tarantine says.

Many nurses say that a course in evidence-based practice helped them to understand the importance of using analytics to drive practice and initiate change. But you don’t really need to come in with any special training. “Since this is a relatively new role for nurses, at least formally, there are opportunities in the health care organizations where nursing can learn the role on the job,” Fant says. Getting involved with the unit or hospital quality committee, for example, is a great way to learn how data and analytics drive change at the bedside.

Your work will have wide-ranging impact

Nurses, like nearly everyone else, will have to face the facts: Data is here to stay. The sooner you embrace it, the better.

The good thing about data is that it can have an impact both on patient outcomes in a broad sense and also on an individual patient basis.

“Nurse educators use analytics in determining course effectiveness and value,” says Linda Gural, a member of the New Jersey State Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association board of directors. “Researchers, maintaining patient confidentiality, can target specific areas retrieved from the electronic health record to conduct studies and analyze the data formulating evidence for practice.”

In other words, analytics just help nurses do their jobs better. Which means patients get better care. Everybody wins.