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Interoperability has been an ongoing issue throughout the healthcare industry for decades. In fact, the lack of interoperability costs the US healthcare system roughly $30 billion annually. Previously, even though all healthcare data was managed with plenty of programming efforts, information exchange was rigid and full of data misinterpretation. As more healthcare organizations have accumulated data from software systems, medical applications, and devices, the need for seamless data integration has increased. In order to achieve interoperability complete with accurate records, these systems must be able to integrate with one another to receive and/or to retrieve new information.
Another pressing challenge is related to the accelerated adoption rate of innovative technology in healthcare. As the demand for technology grows, the need to bridge the gap between healthcare organizations and multiple emerging data sources is more vital than ever. In order to simplify the process, the non-profit organization, Health Level Seven International, developed a unified data exchange standard with the sole purpose of simplifying information sharing throughout the healthcare industry. Presently, It has developed several standards (with HL7 being the most prominent), and a recent substandard, FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources). These standards have been adopted by the American National Standards Institute and International Organization for Standardization.
HL7, or Health-Level-7 (developed by Health Level Seven International), is an internationally accepted set of standards that serve as a medium to receive, exchange, manage and retrieve digital information transferred between different software applications used by healthcare providers. In short, HL7 is a sophisticated framework that allows various healthcare data software solutions to integrate with each other and interpret data. The HL7 standards consist of a number of flexible guidelines and methodologies with which various healthcare systems use to communicate with one another. These guidelines and data standards ensure that data exchange rules and common health data definitions relating to clinical documentation, EHR and personal health records, quality reporting, and prescription product labeling remain consistent across systems.
The HL7 standards primarily focus on the application layer (layer 7) in the Open Systems Interconnection of the ISO seven-layer communications model. The application layer is a conceptual model that covers the communication function of a system with no regard to the internal structure or technology.
There are certain HL7 standards (categories, versions, and concepts) that are predominately used for HL7 system integration. The following is a list of where some of the primary HL7 standards belong:
1.Version 2.x/3 Messaging Standard: an interoperability specification for health and medical transactions.
2. Clinical Document Architecture (CDA): an XML markup standard that specifies standards relating to encoding, structure, and the semantics of clinical documents that are to be exchanged.
3. Continuity of Care Document: an XML markup standard that specifies the standards relating to encoding, structure, and the semantics of patient summary clinical documents to be exchanged.
4. Structured Product Labeling: an XML-formatted standard that defines human prescription drug labeling content.
5. Clinical Context Object Workgroup: a standard protocol that synchronizes disparate applications in real-time at the UI level.
6. HL7 Version 2 Product Suite: allows for data exchange between medical systems.
HL7 is supported by 1,600 members from over 50 countries with the main vision of providing users with flexible access to healthcare data whenever they need it.
In order to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, Health Level Seven International develops its standards via a balloting system. This democratic system allows members to vote and comment during successive balloting rounds until there are no negative comments left and draft standards are agreed upon.
While the HL7 protocol enables data sharing and exchange, the HL7 interface is an interconnection that allows for information transmission between different system endpoints. In short, an HL7 interface allows users to execute data messaging between applications or software systems. In order to allow this exchange to occur, healthcare companies need to integrate and enable their data systems with the proper means of communication.
Proper data sharing and interchangeability play a crucial role in the healthcare industry. As medical institutions continue to adopt more software and devices, it is crucial to ensure smooth data integration between all systems and disparate data sources. Depending on the data, there are various types of HL7 messages that are transmitted between systems. HL7 is primarily used by hospitals, private clinics, governmental healthcare institutions, healthcare software providers, laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and other patient care and medical facilities.
The modern healthcare industry operates multiple systems and devices to sustain its essential day-to-day operations. All of these software solutions and applications are built differently, designed with different functionality, capabilities, and features. The challenge here is that some organizations use large, complex data infrastructures and essentially operate using massive volumes of information, while other healthcare institutions deploy more simple software solutions. The purpose of the HL7 standard is to create a universal protocol so that any organization with permission can access and retrieve information from other healthcare software systems or applications.
Although electronic health record (EHR) systems are the most common and widely used solutions for workflow automation, it is often challenging to properly communicate between various EHRs and other data sources, including lab services, pharmaceutical systems, etc. Here, HL7 standards can help enhance interoperability and transmit data whether the systems use older communication paradigms or modern APIs. Additionally, HL7 can serve as a tool for workflow automation if a hospital or medical organization doesn’t have a comprehensive EHR. The protocol itself structures and shares data in a clear way, thus simplifying the information exchange process throughout the healthcare industry.
As HL7 serves as a powerful tool for storing and exchanging healthcare data, it has potential for global use and collaboration. One of the ongoing issues in the healthcare industry involves collaboration between established governmental institutions and the rapidly growing health tech sector along with private practices. Health-Level-Seven standards create a unified guideline for all healthcare market players, including private clinics, state hospitals, laboratories, and healthcare software providers, enabling them to cooperate faster and more efficiently. In addition, HL7 protocols play a crucial role in times of international health crisis, for instance, throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Improved communication between different medical organizations allows for the accumulation of more valuable data that can be leveraged to improve the quality and efficiency of a patient’s care. HL7 enables faster and smoother data exchange which allows clinicians to receive up-to-date information and get a wider clinical perspective as more patient records are available for access.
Through HL7, clinicians have access to relevant information from multiple sources and can be sure that all data is synchronized and relevant. With a reduced need for requesting and filling out information manually, HL7 standards save time and ensure higher accuracy when dealing with patient records.
Apart from seamless data transmission between existing systems used by particular medical institutions, the HL7 protocol also opens more opportunities to experiment with other software solutions. This not only creates a wider pool to choose from but also enables flexibility in terms of tech solutions for healthcare companies.
Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR, pronounced ‘fire’), is a new specification and the latest version of HL7 from Health Level Seven International that can be used as a stand-alone data exchange standard. The FHIR specification delivers simplified implementation by leveraging existing logical and theoretical models. To put it simply, FHIR is the most up-to-date framework of healthcare data exchange, designed specifically for digital interactions. FHIR uses a modern clinical decision model that provides healthcare providers and individuals with real-time information access and connects systems, applications, and devices. The main aim of FHIR is to deliver resources that can support the majority of use cases either by themselves or when combined.
HL7 will remain a central standard for healthcare software development. As the need to remain compliant with updating HIPAA regulations and integrate with multiple software systems grows, its role will only become more critical in the near future. Glorium has more than 10 years of experience developing healthcare solutions. Allow us to provide your team with our professional expertise when it comes to implementing HL7 protocols into your applications. Learn more about our solutions or book a call today!