by Sarah Sangosti
Informatics nursing wasn’t a job option when Regina Alexander-Reis began her nursing career 25 years ago. But an evolution is taking place in the healthcare field, and Alexander-Reis, RN, BSN, has found herself transforming right along with it.
Alexander-Reis was an Air Force nurse from 1981 through 1984, she worked at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in medical/surgery nursing from 1989 until 1994 and then at an ear, nose and throat clinic for about one year.
She then transferred to the medical surgery unit for the Eastern Colorado Healthcare System’s VA Medical Center in Denver for about one year. The next seven years, she worked in the critical care unit.
During this time, Alexander-Reis admitted her only exposure to computers was owning one and knowing a little about the computer charting system at the VA Medical Center.
Her world changed when she was asked to be part of a troubleshooting team for the newly introduced bar code administration program when it was brought to VA. Alexander-Reis was immediately inspired by informatics and the importance of using a computer system for healthcare documentation.
"Informatics is facilitating the use of computers to support nursing," she said. "It’s a combination of computer science, information science and nursing science that comes together for nurses to document and retrieve patient information."
Being a member of that troubleshooting team made Alexander-Reis hungry for more informatics.
"Anything related to computers and nursing I wanted to get my hand into one way or another," she said.
The timing was perfect for Alexander-Reis when her current job position became available shortly after being introduced to informatics. She stepped into the clinical applications coordinator for nursing/bar code medication administration coordinator position and has been reeling forward in the industry ever since.
"It was a serendipitous evolution of events that brought me here," she said.
She’s currently working toward a master’s of science degree in healthcare informatics through the University of Colorado and hopes to be done in one more year. She said the informatics field is interesting because, as she learned from her MS program, it attracts people without nursing experience, she said.
Her classes have a mixture of people with backgrounds in information technology, engineering and computer programming. She said there are few informatics programs in the country, but that’s not stopping electronic health records from spreading throughout the medical industry.
Alexander-Reis is happy to have the opportunity to be working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because she said its medical centers have the best electronic health record systems in the nation – she’s on the brink of the technology.
The VA’s electronic health record system is integrated across all facets of its healthcare program. That means any healthcare professional who accesses a patient’s records anywhere in the nation will have complete, up-to-date information on that individual.
Alexander-Reis’ component of this system is being in charge of the bar code medication administration at the Denver VA Medical Center. This career keeps her hopping.
Her typical day is spent doing computer work. She also partakes in committee meetings to assure patient safety and keep medication errors low. She troubleshoots computer problems with the bar code medication administration program and learns every day.
In addition to her day-to-day duties, Alexander-Reis keeps abreast of changes in software policies and procedures, runs quality assurance, monitors the electronic documentation process, makes sure electronic records are accurate, works collaboratively with pharmacists and the information technology department to assure the program is working correctly, works with contingency planning, recommends changes in practice if they’re needed and interfaces with nurses to see how the program affects them.
Sometimes she misses the one-on-one interaction of nursing, but said her new career is also fulfilling.
"I get the best of both worlds because I immerse myself in the nursing environment and the other side of healthcare," she said.
Alexander-Reis said her nursing background is an asset to her new career because she can understand from a nurse’s point of view how the electronic health record program does or should work – as opposed to someone without a nursing history who may not be able to make those connections.
But she admits there are challenges and areas where she’d still like to grow.She wants more information about informatics and computer programming so she can develop new products to improve nursing care. She’s continually searching for ways to create pro-active implementations of nursing applications, she said.
Despite her step away from full-time nursing with patient interaction, Alexander-Reis still considers herself a nurse.
"I keep nursing in my heart and at the core of what I do," she said.