"As a nurse, I never imagined working in health informatics"
 Janine Sommer

Janine Sommer

Jesús Mendez
Janine Sommer, nurse and coordinator of telemedicine and patient portal projects in the Health Informatics Department at the Hospital Italiano in Buenos Aires


Janine Sommer studied nursing and made it her career. She spent time in services such as neonatology and paediatrics but took a different path several years ago and now works exclusively in health informatics at the Hospital Italiano in Buenos Aires.

She also took part in the eHealth What If Forum organized by the UOC's eHealth Center a few months ago. Now, taking advantage of International Nurses Day, we sat down to talk to her and find out about the role of e-health in her work, as well as its benefits and challenges.

When people think of telemedicine and e-health, they usually picture a medical professional, but there are other professions and tasks where this approach is extremely important. What are your thoughts? How important are telemedicine and e-health for everyday nursing?

Right, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear those words is always a doctor-patient relationship. You don't think of other professionals, even knowing that there is most evidence of telemedicine use in psychology. However, all health professionals can work with them in one way or another. From different perspectives, because we don't all view patients the same way. 

In nursing, it's important for prevention, patient education and medicine management, although there's still a lot to work on. The pandemic made it clear that nurses can carry out other tasks that are not strictly related to in-person care.

What would you say are the main advantages and limitations of e-health?

One of the main advantages is that it allows us to monitor patients without the need for unnecessary travel. In our hospital, for example, the nurses also use tablets with an app we developed to log vital signs and medication doses. This saves time and prevents mistakes that can happen when nurses are overworked, because there are too few of them for the number of patients that tend to be admitted. It's also very useful for educating patients and informing them of the care they need.

Meanwhile, the biggest limitation is the digital divide. Not only for patients, who often encounter accessibility issues (and it's usually those who could benefit the most: people who live in more remote areas and have less resources), but also for professionals. Many still struggle to embrace new technologies.

You are a nurse, but you work in IT. How did you decide to take that step?

Exactly, I was a neonatal and paediatric nurse, and I love my profession, but the health system can be extremely exhausting for those working in it and I needed a change. Then I found out that there was a specialization called "health informatics" and I decided to do a two-year residency programme. Now it allows me to work in nursing but behind the scenes, doing my bit to make the day-to-day work a little easier. You have a healthcare perspective, but also an IT perspective that tells you which technology can help to improve the work of health professionals and patient care. I'm very happy, but I admit that it's not something I ever imagined doing.

A residency programme like that is not available everywhere. What role do universities and research centres play in education and training?

There's really very little available in Spanish. In Buenos Aires, they're adding health informatics to the bachelor's degree curriculum. Until now, faculties of medicine and nursing provided training in office automation – how to use Word and Excel – but that's certainly not enough nowadays. They're working with the idea that those students may go on to work in computerized hospitals. And if they don't right away, they will eventually. This also makes them aware of this specialization, which prompts more and more of them to choose it.

At the eHealth What If Forum you took part in, a lot was said about the advantages of e-health, but also about some people's fear that it will lead to dehumanization. What do you think?

First of all, I think it should be made clear that e-health and telemedicine are not a replacement for in-person care, but an added feature. But in my opinion, humanization doesn't depend on whether you're on a computer or sitting at a desk in front of a patient; it depends on the person. Dehumanization can happen face to face. In other words, it's not about technology, but about interpersonal skills. And there are tried-and-tested ways of communicating through a screen, such as looking at the camera and letting your hands be seen.

It has also been said that the e-health challenge is not technological in nature, but cultural and organizational. 

Indeed, the challenge has a lot to do with the desired approach to organization. There are many people studying this because technologies alone don't solve processes, and at least here in Argentina there's no law telling us how to handle it. The cultural side is also key. When we had nurses begin using tablets to log data, many patients complained because they thought they were playing games. This is something that will change over time.

A few months ago, the UOC published a study on telemedicine in Latin America that was promoted by the Inter-American Development Bank. It found that international telemedicine could be highly beneficial, but that its use was still limited. Do you agree?

Yes, I do. There are clearly going to be benefits, but I think there's still a lot to discuss between countries. There's a huge dilemma, and that is the issue of jurisdiction. Who can provide care to whom? How is it going to be paid for? Telemedicine doesn't have a physical location, and these are unresolved issues where even political interests come in. 

How has the pandemic changed people's view of these resources?

I think it changed it, absolutely. They were already being phased in, but the pandemic catalysed the changes and now they're here to stay. One indication of this is telemedicine use: while it's logically gone down since the early days of the pandemic, it's now levelled out and is well above where it was before. Professionals have learned to recognize when it's enough, and patients are more familiar with it and even prefer it in some cases.

Lastly, is there a wish you'd like to make for International Nurses Day?

The work done by nurses should be much more appreciated around the world. We should also be mindful of the shortage, which is expected to be even greater by 2030. Nurses should also be encouraged to work in other areas. They shouldn't be seen just as a healthcare resource, but also as assets that can bring high value to other fields, such as education, IT and research.