Senior consultant Dr Kerryn Butler-Henderson tells Amie Larter why health information fields need more nurses.
The number of nurses specialising in health informatics and health information management roles is still small.
Even so, according to Dr Kerryn Butler-Henderson, senior consultant health information management, KBH Consultancy, nurses are perfectly placed to take on such positions.
At the upcoming Health Information and Technology in Western Australia 2014 (HITWA) conference – themed Leadership and education: Encouraging innovative technologies for improving healthcare – Butler-Henderson will present a snapshot of the health information workforce.
Based on results from a Health Workforce Australia review, she will address the current state of play and look at strategies being implemented to increase the health information workforce.
She spoke to Nursing Review prior to the event to outline why it’s important for nurses to familiarise themselves with this growing area.
NR: What are the main differences between health informatics and health information management?
KBH: Health information management is a professional qualification, just like nursing, where graduates will work in a number of different roles. Health informatics is a discipline encompassing those who work with health information systems, typically e-health systems. Many health information managers work in health informatics roles, as do a number of other health professionals.
So nurses can either retrain into health information management or undertake further training, either formally or on the job, as a health informatician.
What roles are nurses performing within the health information workforce?
We certainly have a large number of nurses who have moved into health informatics roles and other types of health information positions.
The Health Workforce Australia report broke down the health information workforce into three levels. The Level 1 workforce is those who are working full-time jobs in a health information role [whether they are looking after a system that is] paper or electronic. There are a number of nurses who have moved into these health informatics roles and are making an impact on e-health in Australia.
Level 2 includes administrators and hospital executives, who have a large part of their role dedicated to working with health information systems and data but also have other responsibilities. We know nurses have been working in these managerial and administrator type roles for a long time.
Level 3 is your healthcare professionals where the majority of the role is patient care but they do come in contact with health information systems.
What were the other key findings to come from the report?
The report showed we need to have a better delineation of what is health information, and what is the health information workforce.
We need to identify the different types of roles and descriptors, competencies and functions, and then from there we need to have better data collection on those positions because right now the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) categories only capture health information management and clinical coders.
For example, a nurse working in a health informatics role filling in her ABS survey would fill in nursing – so we aren’t able to quantify what this workforce is made up of.
The report also recommends more master’s degrees in health information, to retain and retrain professionals and increase the number of graduates coming to a workforce known for shortages.
Why are nurses so important to the health information sector?
Nurses have the skillset and the competencies many other healthcare professionals don’t. We need to encourage more nurses to move into the systems development, implementation, and project management roles – because we need someone who is able to be a translator. Healthcare professionals speak their own language. Software programmers or architects speak their own language. We need a translator. By giving nurses training in these areas – whether it is a master’s tertiary degree course or on-the-job training – we can encourage them to become those translators.
Why do nurses play an important role in the uptake and implementation of systems within the healthcare setting?
Nurses have the medical and healthcare knowledge and systems experience necessary when implementing a new system. It’s excellent if it’s a nursing system to use a nurse to train the other nurses. We know it will have better uptake and implementation, and hope [it will] encourage more nurses to move across into the health information workforce.
As a university lecturer in health information management, I found the best students were those with a nursing background because they can take that knowledge and then apply it into this setting. I encourage nurses looking to retrain to enrol in the University of Tasmania’s master of health information management, commencing next year.
What do you think is holding nurses back from becoming more involved with the health information sector?
Part of it is just knowledge about the workforce. A lot of students tell me they wished they had heard of health information management sooner. Definitely, more people are aware of health informatics than health information management.
The other part is there are not clear roles and positions and career pathways. That can be a real turn off. For some it can be quite daunting to go back and restudy.
For health information management in particular, we see a lot of nurses with injuries – whether it is shoulder or back – and not wanting to lose their knowledge but no longer able to work in a nursing role. They are great to retrain.
Also a lot of younger nurses – who are not so much looking for the patient care but want to work in health – are coming through. I encourage these early-career professionals to stay in health and consider moving into the health information workforce.
The HITWA conference will be on Friday, November 7.Do you have an idea for a story?
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