Health informatics field gives nurses an edge

The crossroads of health care and information technology – the career field known as health care informatics – is booming. About 70,000 health informatics specialists are needed by employers, according to the American Medical Informatics Association.

In part, the demand stems from a federal mandate that all health providers switch to electronic health records by 2014. With health organizations looking to streamline health care delivery and decrease costs, giving all providers access to patient records and having the ability to share critical information just makes sense, said Suzanne Richins, chair of health information management and health care administration at American Sentinel University.

 “Hospitals need to work smarter, not harder, and health care information technology is helping them do that,” she said.

 To meet the demand, American Sentinel University recently updated its online master’s degree in nursing to include a nursing informatics specialty. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

 Students in the program take six general management and leadership courses, followed by six courses in nursing informatics. The 36-credit-hour program takes about two years to complete. Tuition is $460 per credit hour, but some students are able to transfer as many as 18 credit hours.

 Designed for working nurses, students can take two eight-week classes at a time. To apply for the program, prospective students must have a BSN degree, an active and unencumbered RN license, and at least two years of nursing experience.

 Students in the program learn about health care policy and the rules and regulations regarding electronic medical records. The also learn how to implement and manage health information clinical and administrative systems, and to manage and mine data to improve patient care.

 “Nurses have a decided advantage when it comes to health care informatics,” Richins said. “They are already the most frequent users of electronic health records and they have inside knowledge of the work flow of health care systems. They understand medical terminology and they interface with all providers including physicians and allied health professionals.

 “More importantly, they have the necessary people skills. They know how to listen, critically interpret what they hear, and translate it into action.”

 Nursing informatics is a good career path for someone who has been at the bedside for 10 to 15 years and looking to move into another area of nursing, she said.

 “People interested in the field don’t have to be computer experts, but they need to be interested in information technology. The job calls for someone who is self-motivated, has good listening and critical-thinking skills, and likes to solve problems,” Richins said.

 Graduates can find jobs with hospitals, public health organizations, doctors’ offices, research labs, medical software companies, insurance agencies, pharmaceutical companies and educational institutions, Richins said.

 “Typically, salaries range from the $60,000s to the $80,000s,” she added.

 To learn more, call 800-729-2427 or go to www.americansentinel.edu.

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