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Laura Heermann Langford, PhD, RN

Current Affiliation

Nurse Informaticist, Intermountain Healthcare, Chief Operating Officer, Healthcare Services Platform Consortium, Salt Lake City, Utah


BSN, Nursing, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado
MS, Nursing Informatics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
PhD, Nursing Research, emphasis in Clinical Informatics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

How do I describe my work to those outside the field

Applying computers and information sciences to healthcare, specifically nursing, but it’s really to help make caregivers able to manage and use all of the healthcare data coming to them to make the best decisions possible.

Years of experience:

A little over 20 years.

Why Informatics?

It was a bit of a lark at first. I was practicing nursing at Colorado Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver and they were beginning to bring computers in and telling the nurses to use them. Everything had been paper-based until then, and it was really just an acuity system, but I didn’t really know the spectrum of things – I just recognized what they were asking us to do did not fit our workflow, and required what I now know is duplicate documentation. Immediately, I thought this was crazy.  It was making us double-document everything. It did not fit into the nursing work flow at all. It did not fit into a nursing way of thinking at all. I was young, and was wondering whether I should go to graduate school, and if so, what should I do?

In talking with my aunt, who was a professor of nursing in Nebraska at the time, I told her there must be some way that clinicians could become involved in this ‘computer thing’ for hospitals. So she asked around and found what I was looking for was called “informatics.” At the time there were only two informatics programs in nursing: one in Maryland and one in Utah. I visited them both, and decided I preferred the Utah program because it was much more bedside focused, whereas the Maryland program was administration focused. So I gave it a try, thinking that if I didn’t like it, I would go back to my original plan of becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner. So it was a lark, but as I got into the program, I understood it. I got it.  Over time I have learned that for clinicians overall, there’s really only a subset of them who are suited for informatics. I know I can do it and I can understand it, so I consider it a calling – to get in there and roll up my sleeves and help figure this out for clinicians, because I can.

What are your ambitions? At the end of your career, what do you hope to have accomplished?

My ambitions have not really changed since I started in informatics, and that is to improve the way information and data are used by caregivers in day to day patient care. What drove me into the field was recognizing that the computer tools coming to the bedside were not helping me do a better job taking care of patients. That’s what I loved about the informatics programs at the University of Utah. I didn’t know anything about decision support systems, and there, I learned what could be done, and I really caught on to the vision. We should be able to view healthcare information systems as an integral part of healthcare and as essential as the stethoscope. I want to know I can take better care of my patients because I have this system assisting me. I don’t ever see information systems replacing humans because we need human critical thinking and the human touch, but there is so much that humans are bombarded with that could be supported with the computer. I want to see that happen in my lifetime.

Who or what are your “key sources” in the informatics field?

I work for Stan Huff, which is a privilege, and I always consider him a fantastic resource and supporter. I also was able to study with Reed Gardner, who was very helpful to me in my early career. I have several nursing colleagues who, depending on what the issue is, I rely on. Some are in Utah, some are elsewhere. Patti Dykes, Charlotte Weaver, Denise Goldsmith, Judy Murphy, Judy Warren, Kathy Sward, and many many others. I also enjoy and rely on my physician informatics colleagues, Jim McClay at the University of Nebraska, Russ Leftwich of Intersystems, Peter Park. I have learned so much from so many people – it is hard to name them all, and I am so appreciative of all of my mentors and colleagues.

Articles that spotlight my research interest

Hobbies/Interests outside AMIA

I like photography. I have a Canon SLR. It’s all digital. I would not have the patience if it was film, because with digital you can take tons of pictures and then just keep the good ones. I enjoy being outdoors, which can be fun when hiking or traveling with a camera. I also like movies and the theater, and my husband and I like going to the opera. 

AMIA is important to me because

The networking is incredible. AMIA has allowed me to meet people within the profession and through different types of projects work with them and get to know them. The members can challenge you with new ideas or open up your thinking. I always enjoy the Annual Symposium. It can present new and different ideas you hadn’t considered before. I appreciate that environment.

I am involved with AMIA

I have had several roles with NIWG, the Nursing Informatics Working Group. For the last two years I was the Chair, and so this year I am Past Chair.

It may surprise people to know

I play the flute. I played all through school in different groups, including classical. As an adult, I’ve played the flute in church, doing everything from classical to religious music.