Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics
Lynn M. NAGLEa, Walter SERMEUS b, Alain JUNGERc
a Lawrence S. Bloomberg, Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario,
Leuven Institute for Healthcare Policy, University of Leuven, Belgium cUniversity Hospital of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Abstract. The scope of nursing informatics practice has been evolving over the
course of the last 5 decades, expanding to address the needs of health care
organizations and in response to the evolution of technology. In parallel, the
educational preparation of nursing informatics specialists has become more
formalized and shaped by the requisite competencies of the role. In this chapter,
the authors describe the evolution of nursing informatics roles, scope and focus of
practice, and anticipated role responsibilities and opportunities for the future.
Further, implications and considerations for the future are presented.
Keywords. Nursing informatics specialist, role function, connected health, data
science, big data, personalized medicine, clinical intelligence, virtual care
By 2018, 22 million households will use virtual care solutions, up from less than a
million in 2013. Average (healthcare) visits among these adopter households will
increase from 2 per year in 2013 to 6 per year in 2018, which include both acute care
and preventive follow-up services in a variety of care settings—at home, at retail kiosk
or at work. 
Nursing informatics roles have taken many forms in focus and function over the
last decades; suffice it to say that they have not been consistently described or defined
in terms of scope of practice. At the time of this writing it is clear that role of nursing
informatics specialists will continue to evolve at an increasingly rapid rate in the
coming years. The unfolding of new health care paradigms will bring greater
connectivity between care providers and patients, include a wide array of emerging
technologies and an increasing emphasis on data analytics will make the integration of
informatics competencies into every area of nursing an imperative.
2. Brief history of roles of the past and present
The earliest and most common types of informatics work assumed by nurses has
included: oversight of organizational workload measurement systems, project
leadership, systems educator, and nursing unit or departmental information technology
resource. In many instances, these roles were enacted on the basis of a specific
identified organizational need and were often secondments to the Information
Technology Department. It was not unusual for these roles to have the designation of
Forecasting Informatics Competencies for Nurses in the Future of Connected Health J. Murphy et al. (Eds.)
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“IT nurse” . As role responsibilities and job titles have been widely varied, so have
the qualifications for each. The need for more specificity and consistency in nursing
informatics roles has been recognized for several years [3, 4, 5].
The advent of formal education programs for nurses interested in specializing in
informatics has occurred in conjunction with increasing sophistication in the use of
information and communication technologies (ICT) in clinical practice settings. Today,
nurses have the option to pursue specialization and credentials at a variety of levels
including graduate specialization and specialty certification. Advanced credentials and
certification (e.g., Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management
Systems – CPHIMS) have afforded nurses the opportunity to achieve credibility and
legitimacy regarding the specialty informatics knowledge and skills they bring to bear
in nursing practice and academia and healthcare in general . This credibility has
been recognized with the development of executive level positions such as the “Chief
Nursing Informatics Officer” (CNIO) in some countries. The position of the “Chief
Medical Informatics Officer” (CMIO) is much more prevalent and deemed essential in
medium and large health care organizations while the C-level nursing counterpart
remains less common. Several authors [7-11] have described the role and competencies
for these senior informatics positions, yet the valuing of these positions remains limited
among health care provider organizations.
In addition to the evolution of formalized training programs for nurses interested in
informatics, the specialty of nursing informatics has continued to evolve and has
become recognized in local jurisdictions, nationally and internationally. Groups of like-
minded nurses have organized into special interest groups affiliated with larger
interdisciplinary organizations (e.g., International Medical Informatics Association –
Special Interest Group on Nursing Informatics (IMIA-NI-SIG)). Organizations such as
the Canadian Nursing Informatics Association (CNIA), the American Nursing
Informatics Association (ANIA), the Nursing Informatics Working Group of the
European Federation for Medical Informatics (EFMI-NURSIE) are examples of forums
for nurses to network, collaborate and profile their work in informatics. The existence
of these specialty organizations has served to further legitimize the work of nurse
informaticians and provided a venue for advancing regional, national and international
efforts in nursing informatics. Through conferences, meetings and the offering of
educational sessions, virtually and face to face, these networks of nurse informaticists
have collectively advanced the practice and science of nursing informatics. A case in
point is the International Nursing Informatics Congress and post-conference, now held
bi-annually and hosted by countries across the globe. Outputs of these meetings include
publications such as this one; benefitting nursing informatics specialists and the nursing
At the time of this writing, we find nursing informatics specialists in virtually
every clinical practice setting. The roles and focus of their work endeavors are wide
and varied. The titles of “informatics nurse”, “nurse informatician”, and “nursing
informatics specialist” are but a few of the titles applied to nurses working in the field.
Many of the roles of the past and present have been more extensively described
elsewhere [2,12]. For the purpose of this chapter, the authors use the title of nursing
informatics specialist to provide illustrations of the potential focus of these roles
current and future.
Roles to date have largely focused on supporting acquisition, implementation and
evaluation of clinical information systems in health care organizations. As noted by
McLane and Turley , “informaticians are prepared to influence, contribute to, and
mold the realization of an organization’s vision for knowledge management” (p.30).
L.M. Nagle et al. / Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics Specialist 213
Nurses have been in pivotal roles at every step of the systems life cycle and
instrumental in the success of deployments at every level of an organization. From the
provision of executive oversight, project management, systems education and training,
and analytics, nurses in clinical settings have become core to organizations’
information management infrastructure and support.
In addition to health care provider organizations, nursing informatics specialists
can be found in the employ of technology vendors, retail outlets, and consulting firms
while many others have created their own entrepreneurial enterprise. Over the last few
decades, technology vendors, hardware and software, have come to appreciate the
invaluable contribution of nurses to the development, sales and deployment of their
solutions. Throughout the world, nurses are also engaged in academic pursuits to
advance the knowledge base of nursing informatics through the conduct of research.
Efforts are underway in many countries to advance the adoption and integration of
entry-to-practice informatics competencies into undergraduate nursing programs.
Notwithstanding some of the ongoing gaps in the provision of informatics content in
undergraduate nursing education, many courses and programs have been taught in a
variety of post-secondary education institutions over several years by nursing
informatics specialists. In fact it is not unusual for many nurses to develop an interest
in informatics through a single course and subsequently pursue further studies and
Since the early 90’s many graduate level courses and degrees, certificate and
certification programs have been developed and offered world-wide. Nurses have
pursued these opportunities recognizing the necessity of informatics knowledge and
skills now and particularly into the future, as they face an increasingly connected world
of digital healthcare. To a large extent, the core competencies of the nursing
informatics specialist have become essential for all nurses and expectations of the
specialist role will continue to evolve even further.
3. Emerging roles for nursing informatics specialists
The healthcare sector continues to evolve in the application and use of technologies to
support the delivery of care. Factors including: a) rising health care expenditures, b) the
increasing incidence of chronic disease, c) the ubiquity of technology, d) an aging
demographic, e) personalized medicine, f) mobile and virtual healthcare delivery, g) the
emergence of consumer informatics, h) genomics, i) big data science, and connected
health are and will continue informing the evolution of nursing informatics roles.
One of the main challenges we have to cope with is the difference in growth rate
that is exponential for the new technology and knowledge yet is still linear for
changing human behavior, learning, organizations, legislation, ethics, etc, A linear
growth rate is mostly represented by a function in a form like y(x) = ax+b. An
exponential growth rate is mostly represented by a function in a form like f(x) = kax.
For example: In an exponential world where the information is doubling every year, 5
exponential years would equal to 25 or 32 linear years which has a massive impact on
the management of professional knowledge. In reality, we estimate that knowledge
development in healthcare, which has doubled every century until 1900, is now
estimated to double every 18 months. And the pace is getting faster. This means that
when nurses finish their education, the knowledge they gained might be already
outdated. The traditional way of developing procedures, protocols and care pathways,
sometimes requiring a year to develop, are outdated when they are finalized and are
L.M. Nagle et al. / Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics Specialist214
insufficient to guide future practice. The only way forward is to integrate and embed
the new knowledge in electronic patient records using algorithms and decision support
systems so that practice remains aligned with new knowledge and insights. The impact
might be that best practices can change very quickly and what is viewed as best
practice before your holiday leave might be different upon your return to work. Making
the connection between these different dimensions of time will be a key-role of the
evolving role of the NI specialist.
A second challenge is that clinical practice in the future will be largely team based.
The nature of teams will include interprofessional teams, patients and their relatives
and a wide range of virtual devices (internet of things – IoT) that are all connected.
Teams will work across boundaries of organizations and will be organized around a
particular patient. We still have to come up with new labels for naming these temporary
virtual interprofessional patient teams. Practically it will mean that nurses will be
(temporary) members of different teams at the same time. This notion of teamwork is
in contrast with what we normally see as teams organized in organizations, departments
and units. It will challenge how teams will be managed, led, and evaluated. But it will
also challenge the communication within teams and the exchange of information.
3.1 Virtual and connected care
The delivery of health services virtually is becoming commonplace in many places
around the globe. Virtual care has been defined as: “any interaction between patients
and/or members of their circle of care, occurring remotely, using any forms of
communication or information technologies, with the aim of facilitating or maximizing
the quality and effectiveness of patient care” [13, p 4].
The most common modalities of virtual care are currently in use in telemedicine.
Telemedicine has been largely used to conduct remote medical consultations,
assessments and diagnosis (e.g., teledermatology, telestroke, telepsychiatry) through
the use of computer technology and associated peripheral devices including digital
cameras, stethoscopes and opthalmoscopes, and diagnostic imaging. More recently, the
tools of telemedicine have been extended to the provision of remote nursing monitoring
and assessment particularly for individuals with chronic diseases such as congestive
heart failure (CHF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The nurses
providing these tele-homecare services are not necessarily informatics specialists but
the design and management of the monitoring tools, infrastructure and support services
may be provided by them in the future.
Another emerging area of nursing informatics practice will likely focus on the use
of remote monitoring technologies such as sensors and alerts embedded in structures
(e.g., flooring, lighting, furniture, fixtures) and appliances (e.g., stove, refrigerator) in
the homes of citizens. These tools offer the promise of supporting seniors to maintain a
level of independence in their own homes longer, particularly those with cognitive or
sensory impairments. Such devices might trigger direct messaging to providers, lay and
professional, flagging potentially harmful situations and affording early intervention as
necessary. Different types of sensors (e.g., sleep, activity, falls, ambulation,
continence, fluid and electrolyte) will also contribute new supplementary data to health
information repositories, offering the possibility of linking to other data sets and
provide new insights to the well-being of individuals in the community especially the
aged and those living with chronic illness.
With the increasing use of consumer health solutions such as patient portals and
smartphone apps for self-monitoring and management of health and disease, nurse
L.M. Nagle et al. / Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics Specialist 215
informatics specialists will likely play a key role in their support and development.
From the perspective of application design and usability, and training, nursing input
and informatics expertise will be important to ensure appropriate and safe use of these
tools. As individuals and their families become more active participants in their care
through the use of applications and devices to connect with providers, they will likely
also need expertise and support from the nursing informatics specialist.
3.2 Knowledge generation and innovation
The traditional ways of new knowledge generation is through research and the
dissemination of findings in research journals. Knowledge is consumed by researchers
and clinicians who transform it into relevant guidelines and care pathways. The time
between the generation of research findings and application in the real clinical work
can take several years. It is generally estimated that it takes an average of 17 years for
research evidence to reach clinical practice . Therefore clinicians are not always
aware of existing evidence. In a landmark study, McGlynn et al.  evaluated the use
of evidence-based guidelines in 30 conditions and 439 indicators for the use of the
same. They showed that clinicians (doctors, nurses) only apply 50% of them in their
daily practice. The use varied from 80% for structured conditions such as cataract to
10% for unstructured conditions such as alcohol addiction. There is also a lot of
research demonstrating that nurses lack knowledge related to common procedures.
Dilles study illustrated  that nurses lack sufficient pharmacological knowledge and
calculation skills. Baccalaureate prepared nurses’ pharmacological knowledge averaged
between 60% and 65% of the level expected. Segal et al.  analyzed the use of hip
arthroplasty care pathways in 19 Belgian hospitals finding a high variability in
providing evidence-based interventions. While post-op pain monitoring is in 100% of
the care pathways, pre-op physiotherapy was only present in 25% of the care pathways.
In the future of connected health, there will be direct links to knowledge generated
by specialists from around the world. New knowledge will be automatically integrated
and embedded into electronic patient records, and include new algorithms for decision
support systems. It is interesting to note that Hearst Health Network, one of the largest
media and communication groups in the world, is taking a leading role in healthcare.
They started an intensive collaboration among strong health knowledge companies
such as First Databank (FDB), Map of Medicine, Zynx Health and Milliman Care
Guidelines (MCG). FDB is a United Kingdom company specialized in integrated drug
knowledge to prescribe medication, follow-up drug interactions, improve clinical
decision making and patient outcomes. Map of Medicine was created in the UK for
clinicians by clinicians. It offers a web-based visual representation of evidence-based
patient journeys covering 28 medical specialties and 390 pathways. Zynx Health offers
a similar story from the US to provide evidence-based clinical decision support system
solutions at the point of care through electronic patient records. MCG produces
evidence-based clinical guidelines and software and is widely used in the US, UK and
Middle East. Other examples of health information networks are CPIC (Clinical
Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium) to help clinicians understand how
available genetic test results could be used to optimize drug therapy, the International
Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) which facilitates data sharing to describe genomic
sequences in tumor types among research groups all over the world. In the information
models, such as archetypes and Detailed Clinical Models (see section C chapter 1) offer
summaries of evidence for specific clinical concepts.
L.M. Nagle et al. / Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics Specialist216
Likely one of the most significant areas of focus for nursing informatics specialists
in the near term is data science and the use of “big data”. Big data has been defined as:
“large amounts of data emerging from sensors, novel research techniques, and
ubiquitous information technologies” [18, p. 478]. Access to big data unveils a whole
new sphere of informatics opportunities related to health and nursing analytics.
According to Masys , big data is “that which exceeds the capacity of unaided
human cognition and strains the computer processing units, bandwidth, and storage
capabilities of modern computers”. The future development of nursing capabilities in
data science will essentially lead to an entirely new cadre of nursing informatics
specialists whose work will focus on deriving new nursing knowledge from not only
electronic health record data, but also the data from sensor and remote monitoring
technologies, patient portals and mobile apps described above. The implications of –
omics data such as genomics, metabolomics, and proteomics, being included as part of
the electronic health record in the near future, should be taken into account. Nurse
informatics specialists will be pivotal in assisting to identify potential ethical and
practice implications in the use of these data.
Using big data, the knowledge generating process might be reversed into practice-
based evidence where data from electronic health records, patient portals, sensors etc.
are uploaded into large databases that identify patterns and clinical interesting
correlations. An example of the power of analyzing large datasets is the Vioxx-case
(rofecoxib). Although a clinical trial initially showed no increased risk of adverse
cardiovascular events for the first 18 months of Vioxx use, a joint analysis of the US
FDA and Kaiser Permanente’s Healthconnect database of more than 2 million person-
years of follow-up, the NSAID arthritis and pain drug was found shown to have an
increased risk for heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.  After the findings were
confirmed in a large meta-analysis, Merck decided to withdraw the drug from the
market worldwide in 2004.
With the proliferation of these emerging data sources and databases, the nursing
informatics specialist will play a key role in the use of these data to inform quality and
safety improvements in every practice setting.
3.3 Sharing knowledge and communication
In the realm of the new normal of connected health, nurses will work in temporary
teams around patients. Within these teams it will be essential that goals are clear and
shared, that roles are defined and accepted and that the way of working is clear to
everyone. It requires systems for coordination and communication to ensure the
continuity of care. Reid et al.  defined continuity of care as: “how one patient
experiences care over time as coherent and linked; this is the result of good
information flow, good interpersonal skills, and good coordination of care”. They
make a distinction between information continuity, relational continuity and
management continuity. Information continuity consists on one hand in the exchange
and transfer of information among health care providers and to patients and on the
other hand how the knowledge of the patient is accumulated. It is about their specific
knowledge, preferences, expectations, social network. With the existence of the new
technology of the quantified self, it is important that these new data are effectively
integrated and connected. Relational continuity consists of the trusted relationship
between patient and healthcare provider. Increasingly advanced practice nurses are
assuming this pivotal role within the health team. Management continuity is referring
to a consistent and coherent approach to the health problem across organizations and
L.M. Nagle et al. / Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics Specialist 217
boundaries. The Belgian healthcare system offers an interesting example of this:
General Practitioners are stimulated (financially) to prescribe generic drugs. Hospitals
are stimulated to negotiate discounts with pharmaceutical companies leading to brand
named drug choices. Although they might chemically be identical, for the patient they
often are not as they have different names. Like drugs may be different in size and
color leading to more medication errors as patients may take two pills without being
aware that they are the same drug.
Although nurses spend a lot of time documenting care, the accuracy of nursing
documentation has been found to be poor. In a study within 10 Dutch hospitals, Paans
et al.  found that within 341 patient records the accuracy of documentation of
diagnoses was poor or moderate in 76% of the records. The accuracy of the
intervention documentation was poor or moderate in 95% of the patient records. Only
the accuracy for admission, progress notes and outcomes evaluation and the legibility
were acceptable. The work of Connected Health should support the documentation
systems of nurses and other health professionals. The use of structured documentation
methodologies and standardized terminologies should improve the quality of the
patient record and improve the capacity for comparability of care processes and
outcomes across the care continuum and within patient care groups.
3.4 Impact of connected health on the Scope of Practice of Nurses and Advanced
Practice Nurses (APN)
In Connected Health, the scope of practice of nurses will change. For example, based
on time and motion studies, it has been shown that nurses spend 5-7% of their time [23,
24] collecting vital sign data. In the future this work will be assimilated by sensors and
other devices. However, nurses’ work will be more focused on analyzing the data and
evaluating thresholds for action (e.g., alerting rapid response teams). Another example
is the use of sensors for pressure ulcer monitoring . The used sensors will provide
information about patient temperature, skin humidity, pressure points and position.
These data will generate a whole new set of information for review and action
including pressure intensity map and humidity intensity maps. These data would lead to
more precise management of pressure sores. Other examples of data gathering that will
change the focus and processes of nurses’ work include: barcode scanning for checking
identity of patients, patient and device tracking systems, and robotic dispensing of
Patient access to their own records and partnering in their own health will change
the roles of physicians, nurses and hospitals drastically. The work of nurses will
increasingly shift from a direct care provision to the role of knowledge broker in
helping patients to understand care alternatives, manage their health, and navigate
4. Impact of connected health on the evolving role of the Nursing Informatics
Connected health will alter the future role of the nursing informatics specialist and
require a new set of competencies. To a large extent these competencies will build
upon existing competencies but have an increasing emphasis on information use rather
than technology use. Table 1 provides a summary of the anticipated new competencies
L.M. Nagle et al. / Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics Specialist218
and role responsibilities that are likely to be necessary for Nursing Informatics
Specialists in the emerging world of connected health and the IoT.
Table 1. New competencies related to the future role of nursing informatics specialists
New Competencies New Roles
Knowledge Innovation and
• Provide guidance and support to others (nurses, patients) in the
application and use of emerging knowledge (e.g., clinical decision
support, Practice-Based Evidence (PBE), genomics, expert and
• Inform-teach others (clinicians, teams, patients) about new
knowledge and knowledge innovations relevant to specific
• Provide direction and support to others in the use of international
guidelines and knowledge
• Contribute internationally to new knowledge generation and
innovations ensuring the inclusion of relevant team member and
patient perspectives and expertise
Monitoring the use of new
• Monitor and maintain vigilance over data/technologies to identify
those that add value to a given health situation.
• Recognize that nurses, other clinicians and patients may engage and
assume responsibility independently and or interdependently for
specific data (e.g., remote monitoring, self-monitoring, wearables,
• Recognize the emergence of patient self-service and relevance of
patient expertise in specific situations.
Value judgement & quality
• Provide guidance as to the value and relevance of specific data and
information as derived from single or multiple sources for any given
set of circumstances, or health situations.
Change Management • Identify the broader scope and considerations for change
management in the context of connected health (e.g., virtual and
• Recognize the extended complexities of technology adoption in the
context of connected health.
With increasingly complex and personalized approaches to health care,
participate in the identification and/or development of new:
• models of clinical documentation
• methods of communication
• data standards
• terminology standards
• data sources
• data models
• data repositories
Data Analytics In addition to traditional quantitative and qualitative analyses, support
and participate in the development and use of new approaches and
methods of data analytics for:
• knowledge generation (e.g., natural language processing,
• reporting outcomes
• demonstrations of value (e.g., patient-caregiver perspectives, health
and financial outcomes)
• predictive and retrospective analyses
L.M. Nagle et al. / Evolving Role of the Nursing Informatics Specialist 219
The future Nursing Informatics Specialist will function in the context of virtual care
delivery, be informed by data aggregated from a multiplicity of sources and real-time
knowledge generation that will inform individualized care. In addition to the
competencies required to date, they will be required to support other clinicians and
patients and families as they assume new roles and use data analytics to interpret and
appropriately apply new knowledge. With the IoT, connected care will pose as yet
unknown challenges for the Nursing Informatics Specialist in the future; what is certain
is that the role will continue to evolve from the role scope and responsibilities known
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