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Volume 12 Number 1 - February 2008 Issue

Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI) Spring 2008 Volume 12, Number 1
ISSN # 1089-9758 Indexed in CINAHL © 1996 - 2014


Mastrian, K. (February, 2008). Invited Editorial: Cognitive Informatics and Nursing Practice.
Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI), 12, (1) [Online].

Cognitive Informatics (CI) and Nursing Practice

By Dr. Kathleen Mastrian

Nursing InformaticsThe recognition of the potential application of principles of cognitive science to nursing informatics is relatively new. The traditional and widely accepted definition of nursing informatics advanced by Graves and Corcoran (1989) is that nursing informatics is a combination of nursing science, computer science and information science used to describe the processes nurses use to manage data, information and knowledge in nursing practice. Turley (1996) proposed the addition of cognitive science to the mix as nurse scientists strived to capture, and explain the influence of the human brain on data, information and knowledge processing and how these in turn affect nursing decision making. The need to include cognitive sciences is imperative as we attempt to model and support nursing decision making in complex computer programs.

In 2003, Wang proposed the term cognitive informatics as a branch of information and computer sciences that investigates and explains information processing in the human brain. The science of cognitive informatics grew out of the interest in artificial intelligence as computer scientists attempt to develop computer programs that mimic the information processing and knowledge generation functions of the human brain. As Wang (p. 120) explains further, Cognitive informatics attempts to solve problems in two connected areas in a bidirectional and multidisciplinary approach. In one direction, CI uses informatics and computing techniques to investigate cognitive science problems, such as memory, learning and reasoning; in the other direction, CI uses cognitive theories to investigate the problems in informatics, computing, and software engineering.

Thus cognitive informatics attempts to bridge the gap between artificial and natural intelligence and enhance the understanding of how information is acquired, processed, stored and retrieved so that these functions can be modeled in computer software.

What does this have to do with nursing? At its very core, nursing practice requires problem solving and decision making. We attempt to help people manage their responses to illnesses and identify ways that they can maintain or restore their health. We must first recognize that there is a problem to be solved, identify the nature of the problem, pull information from our knowledge stores that is relevant to the problem, decide on a plan of action, implement the plan and evaluate the effectiveness of our interventions. When we have practiced the science of nursing for some time, we tend to do these processes automatically, that is, we know instinctively what needs to be done to intervene in the problem. What happens, though if we are faced with a situation or problem with which we have no experience to draw upon? The ever increasing acuity and complexity of patient situations coupled with the explosion of information in health care has fueled the development of decision support software for nursing. This software attempts to model the human/natural decision making processes of professionals in an artificial program. These systems can help decision makers to consider the consequences of different courses of action prior to implementing the action. They also provide stores of information that the user may not be aware of and thus can utilize to choose the best course of action and ultimately make a better decision in the unfamiliar circumstances.

Decision support programs will continue to evolve as the research in the fields of cognitive science, artificial intelligence and cognitive informatics is continuously generated and then applied to the development of these systems. We must embrace, not resist, these advances as support and enhancement of the practice of nursing science.


Graves, J. & Corcoran, S. (1989) The study of nursing informatics. Image: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 21 (4) Winter, 227-230.

Turley (1996). Toward a model for nursing informatics. Image: Journal of Nursing Scholarship 28 (4), Winter, 309-13.

Wang, Y. (2003). Cognitive Informatics: A New Transdisciplinary Research Field. Brain and Mind, 4 (2), 115-127.

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