The U.S. government staunchly supports electronic health records, firmly believes in the benefits of health information technology, and is ready to invest federal resources to expand its use. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mentions health information technology (HIT) throughout (one analyst counted over 40 references to it), and also makes mention of electronic health records (EHRs) more than a dozen times.
Incentive payments by CMS to hospitals and group practices that make “meaningful use” of EHRs are scheduled to begin in May of 2011. A budget of $18 billion has been established for these incentives, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). And, starting in 2015, all Medicare providers will be required to use EHRs in accordance with the “meaningful use” definition, or they will face financial penalties in the form of reduced reimbursement.
So, what is meaningful use? Much has been written about its practical applications, and you can see how CMS defines “meaningful use” online. But let’s remember that the primary goals of ARRA were to create jobs and spur economic activity: it’s highly likely that nurses will find new career paths opening up to them, as nurse informaticians prove critical to implementing meaningful use.
The job outlook for nurse informaticians
First of all, there’s more to HIT than electronic records. The quality tracking and reporting requirements that will apply to accountable care organizations (ACOs) will require new information systems. And telemedicine applications (like remote patient monitoring) are likely to expand as well, given PPACA’s mission to bring medical resources to rural and underserved areas.
Nursing informatics will be a critical part of the systems and processes that telehealth relies on. (And let’s not forget that clinicians, many of them advanced practice nurses, will also be needed to interpret remote data and counsel patients on their next steps.)
But let’s look at some actual numbers about job prospects:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in December, 2010 that health care employment continued to expand, adding 36,000 jobs. More specific to HIT jobs is this report from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). A survey of health care providers and vendors revealed that two-thirds of respondents have the budget to hire full-time IT professionals in 2011. Wow! That’s a sign of a pretty good job market for nurse informaticians.
But it gets even more interesting. A recent study by the Hay Group found that newly formed, full-time, clinical informatics positions are surprisingly difficult to fill. In fact, 47 percent of health care organizations that participated in the survey said they had challenges with recruitment, retention, or both. Almost all respondents (96 percent) said they had started to create HIT positions and structure new departments, in order to implement an EHR system. (Remember, in 2015, providers will be penalized for not making meaningful use of electronic records.) This means it’s a job-seekers market when it comes to finding the perfect position!
Education and certification in nursing informatics
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a certification in informatics. Nurses can become certified after working a minimum number of hours in the field, or by completing a qualifying graduate program in nursing informatics. Credentialing can give you added marketability.
American Sentinel University’s online nursing programs include an MSN with specialization in informatics, in which students develop a detailed project management plan for evaluating, contracting, and implementing a new technology in a healthcare organization. There is also a bachelor’s in health informatics designed for those who are not clinicians, but are working in the IT field or in medical billing and coding.