A nurse holding an iPad

Edmund J.Y. Pajarillo, PhD, associate professor in the College of Nursing and Public Health, is striving to prepare the next generation of nurses for our data-driven future.

Educating nurses in information science to improve patient care

“We are at the dawn of a data deluge in health that carries extraordinary promise for improving the health of populations,” wrote a team of epidemiologists in a 2017 article in the journal Epidemiology, “Big Data and Population Health: Focusing on the Health Impacts of the Social, Physical, and Economic Environment.”

Edmund J.Y. Pajarillo, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Nursing and Public Health, takes this to heart, striving to prepare the next generation of nurses for our data-driven future. His research and classroom mentorship focus on nursing informatics (NI), defined in the American Nurses Association’s book Nursing Informatics: Scope and Standards of Practice (2015) as “the specialty that integrates nursing science with multiple information and analytical sciences…to identify, define, manage and communicate data, information, knowledge and wisdom in nursing practice.”

The more capably nurses can turn data into actionable information, Dr. Pajarillo argued, the better they can optimize their practice and enhance patient care. Today’s nurses aren’t just responsible for hands-on care. Given the amount of data they handle on a daily basis, he said, they should be proficient in financial planning and budgeting, strategic planning, quality management, research and evidence-based practice, data mining, big data and predictive analytics, project management, systems analysis and design.

Health informatics has exploded over the past several decades with the rise of bigger and better business intelligence tools. “In the early ’80s, people didn’t know what to do with data. There was too much data to categorize,” Dr. Pajarillo recalled. “Now, you have Medicare and Medicaid databases, census information and electronic health records systems that capture all encounters with patients.”

The sharing of data accelerated in 2015 with the launch of President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, which abandons the traditional one-size-fits-all model of patient care in favor of treatments based on individual differences in patients’ genes, environments and lifestyles.

One of the ways Dr. Pajarillo uses big data is in his research on population health. As a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, Dr. Pajarillo studies urban communities in New York, such as Harlem and the Upper East Side, that suffer from disparities based on health and social demographic factors. “We try to identify certain risk markers there through predictive analysis and come up with programs that will boost the health of local populations,” he said.

The common denominator among these diverse practices? “Big data is not a one-man show,” Dr. Pajarillo said. “You need checks and balances, people to corroborate and collaborate.” Healthcare professionals, including nurses, must work with researchers and statisticians to build algorithms, pull out data and test for significance. Because big data requires a deep, specific skill set to handle, insufficient technical expertise among staff is a barrier to its usage in healthcare—one Dr. Pajarillo hopes to remedy by championing informatics in nursing education.

Dr. Pajarillo currently has a handful of publications in the works, reflecting his passions for teaching and technology. One study will explore the ways nurses identify, access, process and use the data they need to care for patients; another looks at the benefits of mobile devices for nurse practitioners’ use; and yet another analyzes the efficacy of a design-evolving classroom response system used to gain immediate feedback of students’ learning.

“When I teach informatics to students, I ask them to think about what nursing will look like 10 to 15 years from now,” Dr. Pajarillo said. “I’m always trying to anticipate what the future holds. This, I am hoping, will help them to look critically at current systems and workflows, and continue to think of ways to ‘repackage’ the role of nurses in the midst of all these booms in healthcare technology.”

Edmund J.Y. Pajarillo, Ph.D., focuses his studies on nursing informatics, leadership and mentoring. He is particularly interested in the intertwining relationship of leadership, mentoring and informatics and their role in improving nursing, nursing education and the overall quality of patient care and safety.

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