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Health Level-7 (HL7) was created by Health Level Seven International, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing standards for the exchange of electronic health care data. HL7 are a set of international standards used to transfer and share data between various healthcare providers. More specifically, HL7 helps bridge the gap between health IT applications and makes sharing healthcare data easier and more efficient when compared to older methods.
Most healthcare providers use a variety of applications for everything from billing to keeping up with patient information. The problem is that communication between these different types of software is hard to achieve, even though they often need to talk to each other. Another layer of problems arises when two healthcare providers need to share information.
HL7 provides several standards and guidelines to help software vendors and healthcare providers store and uniformly move data. This way, applications can use the data without using special software for conversions or needing to send paper copies. In short, HL7 aims to make sharing data easy, which in turn reduces the administrative burden on providers and staff while improving care delivery.
An Overview of HL7 Standards
HL7 provides a framework for every step of data exchange and storage. It accomplishes this by defining how the data is packaged and moved including defining the language, data type, and structure of the data. There’s support for every branch of healthcare from practices to management plus oversight. The goal is seamless integration between any systems using HL7 standards. While HL7 falls short of this goal (see our previous post on the biggest hurdles to HL7 integration), these standards represent a milestone towards interoperability and laid the groundwork for developing the more open and extensible Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) as well as the adoption of APIs for health IT.
HL7 is broken into seven parts. Each section has a purpose and defines a new set of rules that may build on the previous set of standards.
The HL7 categories include:
- Section One: defines the standard system integrations and compliance methods. These are the primary standards and possibly the most popular among the categories.
- Section Two: states the foundational standards that users can build and helps define the standards and technology infrastructure they plan to use.
- Section Three: helps link messaging and document standards for providers.
- Section Four: details how electronic health records (EHR) are constructed and managed using profiles and models.
- Section Five: outlines the methods used for implementation and includes support documents for other categories. This section may also serve as the supplemental section for other standards categories.
- Section Six: explores the rules and references used to develop programming structures for software and aids in standards development as well.
- Section Seven: educates users and provides the tools to help aid in the development and adoption of HL7 standards.
If you’re new to HL7, reviewing these categories will make it easier to understand on a deeper level. There’s no better way to start than by going through and understanding each category before you dive into development or implementation.
What Are the Most Commonly Used Standards?
The most important function of HL7 standards is to facilitate interoperability between health information systems. HL7 also helps make sure all documentation and other data remain consistent across all the systems, even if the systems are part of different health care organizations. The most commonly used standards include:
- Clinical Context Object Workgroup
- Structured Product Labeling
- Continuity of Care Document
- Clinical Document Architecture
- Version 2.x Messaging Standard
How Does HL7 Work?
Arguably, the two most talked about topics in healthcare include EHRs and interoperability. Interoperability may be the most important because, without standards like HL7, it is difficult to get the most out of EHRs or use them outside of the hosting organization. Even with HL7, integration remains a time-consuming and costly process especially when compared with solutions based on application programming interface (API) technology.
Similar to the way the internet linked millions of websites together into the web, HL7 links health data uniformly. HL7 is like the code and hardware that works in the background to make sure your web browser can display the information on a website and find the website. HL7 provides a set of standards that let healthcare providers create uniform data that everyone can use if they have access to it.
Patients often have more than one doctor or may visit the ER occasionally, but they can’t carry around their entire health record with them. Standards like HL7 make more data available to health care providers helping them make better decisions and more efficiently provide the best care for their patients.
HL7 can help to improve patient care and minimize some risk factors. If you need more information or help, a good place to begin is the education portal on the HL7 website for resources and training programs.
But, while HL7 was a major step in the right direction, health care organizations still face challenges when it comes to achieving interoperability, largely due to variability in how vendors implement HL7 standards.
API solutions like Emissary® make interoperability not only practical and cost-effective, but also user-friendly – a must in the modern landscape. Emissary uses a robust set of universal, real-time REST APIs and a unified data model to standardize EHR integration, offering read and write capabilities with any EHR. Emissary supports the seamless exchange of health information between EHR platforms, clinical, and administrative applications, providing crucial real-time access to patient health information, including both clinical and administrative data, without sacrificing the security of PHI.