Five Ways Big Data is Changing Nursing

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Big data is changing the way business is conducted in industries as diverse as entertainment, education and finance. Simply defined as very large amounts of data that are analyzed to provide value to a group or individual, these mass quantities of information provide insight into daily staff operations, executive decision-making, consumer marketing and more.

Health care is no exception to this trend. The data that is analyzed and leveraged in this field is gathered from a variety of sources, including electronic health records (EHRs), medical histories, provider notes, mobile applications and more, creating an accumulation of personalized health information around each individual.

Following are five ways in which big data is changing nursing:

1. Documentation

When it comes to recording and storing information, nurses are on the front lines. Data capture begins the moment that a patient registers at a health care group and continues through oral medical histories, blood draws and every other step of the episode of care. From test results to billing codes, nurses at all levels regularly record, verify or leverage information.When these components are completed correctly, the mass quantities of data created by all the patients in an organization, or even across the country, are valuable for improving care and best practices within a group.

In an article for American Nurse Today, the official journal of the American Nurses Association, Amy L. Garcia, MSN, RN, wrote that nurses should abide by the following documentation guidelines to promote the use of big data:

  1. Use evidence-based practices and document according to these standards.
  2. Be consistent in documentation and use standardized terminology.
  3. Avoid free text when possible.
  4. Do not use the phrasing “within defined limits.”
  5. Contribute to research done by an organization or association to which you belong.
  6. Educate yourself about nursing informatics.

2. Staffing

Ensuring appropriate staffing levels is another area of nursing practice affected by big data. Schedules continually change, and staffing requirements fluctuate with demand based on the number of patients and their needs. In most industries, if a team is short staffed, workers will do their best to make it work and, perhaps, deal with any consequences down the line. When a nursing team is short staffed, the situation can literally be a matter of life or death.Using big data, nursing leaders can more effectively determine how many staff members they will need at any given time. According to AMN Healthcare, predictive analytics can anticipate staffing needs and patient demands as far as 120 days in advance.

“With shortages of nurses and other health care professionals becoming an increasingly chronic problem, optimizing your workforce is imperative,” said Susan Salka, president and CEO of AMN Healthcare. “Knowing future patient demand so health care providers can accurately plan workforce scheduling and staffing is an invaluable asset for medical facilities. Fortunately, that information can be available and applied to workforce planning and management.”

Adequate staffing levels also help to prevent nursing burnout. According to a 2017 survey by workforce management solutions company Kronos, 93 percent of nurses reported that they are mentally and/or physically tired by the end of the workday and 63 percent said that they have experienced burnout caused by their work. This level of extreme tiredness can negatively impact patient care. The survey found that 44 percent of nurses worry the care they provide to patients will suffer due to their exhaustion.

3. Evidence-based best practices

When providing care to patients, nurses want to be confident that their decisions are based on the most optimal treatment strategy possible. Big data makes it easier than ever to determine just what those best practices are and ensure that they are used within the organization.Studies have suggested that implementing evidence-based best practices have a number of positive benefits in clinical care, including:

This principle also has an impact on nursing education and research, ensuring that time and other resources are maximized by using the most efficient and effective practices.

4. Workflow

With big data, nurses can use data analysis to determine the most efficient way to treat patients, from how to document their visits to the most effective way to staff a unit. This type of analysis offers powerful information for both creating guidelines and legislation at the federal or state level, as well as determining how individual organizations should operate.

According to Intel, this type of strategy has the potential to improve patient outcomes. “Care delivery management applications offer fundamental advantages for improving the quality of care while enhancing productivity,” reported an Intel whitepaper. “Providers can streamline primary and specialty care workflows, including clinical documentation, quality reporting, analytics and surveillance. Depending on their [sic] needs, a health care organization can target overall efficiency with ambulatory EMR solutions or they [sic] can target their [sic] most high-cost, high-risk specialty areas, such as acute care, cardiology or maternal infant care.”

Big data used to analyze workflow can also provide decision support, which will give nurses the confidence that they need when it comes to deciding the best course of action when caring for patients.

5. New roles

In addition to improving existing practices, big data is also creating new opportunities for nurses. Within traditional positions, the growing emphasis on the collection and use of data from systems such as EHRs can already be seen. However, this trend is also creating a number of new job titles for tech-savvy nurses who want to combine their passion for data with a background in clinical care:

  • Nurse informaticists: The role of nurse informaticist combines nursing practice with information and communication technology to enhance patient care. Nurse informaticists also help shape practices and policies regarding health information technology at health care organizations.
  • Chief nursing informatics officers: In the health care executive suite, an emerging role for nurses is that of the chief nursing informatics officer. The CNIO acts as a liaison between nursing staff and information technology efforts and ensures that regulatory changes are met at all times.
  • Clinical nurse leaders: Though clinical nurse leader is not a new position, it has evolved with the introduction of big data. Nursing professionals who wish to advance to this role will benefit from a background in informatics and other areas of data use in the clinical setting.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in one of these new roles, consider enrolling in Bradley University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program. As a student, you will complete courses on data management, database management systems, statistical procedures and other information technology best practices in the nursing field en route to a career that will help you effectively leverage big data in health care.


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