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Why it's important to give nurses the data they need

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Florence Nightingale, widely recognized as the founder of the nursing profession, could also be considered the first informatics nurse. The definition of nursing informatics is drawn from the IMIA Special Interest Group on Nursing Informatics, which uses this description: "The science and practice [that] integrates nursing, its information and knowledge, with information and communication technologies to promote the health of people, families, and communities worldwide."

A study completed by Nightingale, done on note cards, used a huge set of data collected between 1854-1855 that changed our knowledge of—and had an enormous impact on—hospital sanitation. Her insights were based on detailed analyses of the cause of death of the British soldiers stationed in Crimea.

She used data to identify trends that allowed her to look at the root cause of the deaths, and from that insight, suggested changes in care. Her reforms in Crimea, including the introduction of mandatory hand-washing, cut the death rate in military hospitals from 42 percent to 2 percent. We still leverage that knowledge and advice on patient care, which remains relevant for hand hygiene protocols in hospitals globally.

As clinicians, we do not need more data, but rather insight into the data to drive better decision making. Nurses in a transformed healthcare system can be the leaders for improvements in population health, but to do so, clinical and financial data need to be gathered and tracked over time and across settings. If only looking at an individual's health, it is easy to miss the important trends stretching across a group of patients within a population or community.

There are enormous benefits in leveraging technology to impact patient care. Because nurses comprise a majority of healthcare workers, it puts them in a unique position to leverage relationships with patients to support better engagement with EHRs in capturing the important data that enables us to provide better care.

Nurses must keep the patient front and center in everything that is done, and are often tasked with coordinating patient care, which means relaying information from physicians, therapists, pharmacy, billing, and more, both during care and in preparing patients for discharge. Without near real-time data, something could be missed that impacts the care and recovery of the patient. Informatics improves the coordination of this information, allowing nurses to give their patients all the information they need, improving both outcomes and satisfaction with care.

Nurses who are trained in how to leverage technology and understand the best way to incorporate data into their clinical processes and workflows are often more productive and able to provide better care than ever before. Real-time data enables staff and organizations to work more efficiently and productively and, in turn, results in improved care for patients. Clinical analytics provides insights to help clinicians improve the quality of care in an operationally and fiscally responsible manner. And who knows, maybe the next Florence Nightingale is out there mining data right now that will bring about new, ground-breaking techniques for improving patient outcomes that will be followed for the next 164 years.

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