Nursing Informatics: Still a Mystery After all These Years?

By Dr. Dee McGonigle

McGonigle, D. (October, 2004). Editorial: Nursing Informatics: Still a Mystery After all These Years? (OJNI). Vol. 8, No. 3 [Online]. Available at

One of the biggest challenges we face on a daily basis is the misunderstanding of what Nursing Informatics (NI) involves. If you teach NI, you have heard from those who do not know what it is, “Why do we need a course or courses on that?” These NI challenged faculty and administrators believe that if you incorporate email, a presentation package and the WWW in your coursework, there is no need for a separate NI course. Administrators have asked what is the importance of NI? In the practice setting, you have heard, “Don’t we have an IT department?” In many practice, research, administrative and educational settings, NI is not considered important. The time has come for these nurses to develop an understanding and respect for NI.

In 1990, Dr. Eggers and I defined NI and I have been refining that definition ever since. NI isthe synthesis of nursing science, information science, cognitive science and computer science to enhance the input, retrieval, manipulation, and/or distribution of nursing data, information, and knowledge for all of the domains of nursing to improve client outcomes while advancing nursing knowledge and practice. This definition shows the blending of four sciences to evolve the nursing profession thereby enhancing client care and ultimately improving client outcomes.

Having said that, how do we do this? In a nutshell, we use the ever-evolving technological tools and cognitive knowledge available to us to promote the art of nursing. As Nursing Informaticists or Informaticians, specialists in the field of NI, we develop theory, analyze information needs, select and test hardware and software, design computer systems and information systems, educate users, evaluate, maintain and enhance current systems, develop and preserve ethical practices, and identify technologies that can benefit nursing. We help nurses and nursing students to understand information and cognitive science and the technologic tools necessary to process the data they collect into information and synthesize that information into knowledge. As knowledge workers, nurses must not only have the tools available but must be able to readily apply those tools in their practice to help them manage the vast amount of information they process and synthesize constantly into knowledge. We are building intelligent information systems. We help nurses communicate concepts using a common terminology that will span international borders to have a global effect on the nursing profession. Nurses must be able to structure information and make decisions. As specialists, we develop, use and educate nurses on the decision support systems that assist with data analysis to support nurses, helping them make the best possible decisions. This clinical aspect of decision support directly impacts client care and outcomes.

NI impacts all of us! The following is a brief overview

Clinical practice

Electronic health record
PDAs with terminologies and clinical information at our fingertips
Intelligent clinical decision support (artificial intelligence)
Information systems

Educational arena

Instructional support
Course management systems
Online courseware
Virtual reality
Information systems
Technology innovations


Data analysis tools
Outcome indicators
Budgetary systems
Project management
Personnel management
Managing client care


Information management systems
Knowledge bases
Knowledge management systems
Data analysis tools
Qualitative/Quantitative reasoning and representation

All of the nursing domains must be able to ethically use and understand the evolving terminologies, decision support systems, electronic communication methods, and information technology in order to build knowledge structures, network and disseminate their work. This is crucial to developing new understandings and expanding nursing knowledge especially in this global society within which we reside and work.

Each of us is charged with the obligation to reach out and educate the nursing community as well as other health care professionals and lay people about NI. We must all enlighten our colleagues and administrators about NI and the need for this area of study as well as the need for NI knowledge and experience throughout all of our practice settings. Only then, will NI specialists be respected and embraced in the nursing profession.