HL7 Integration: A Reference for Its Benefits, Implementations, and Applications
- What is HL7?
- What is the Difference between API and HL7?
- Benefits of HL7 for Medical Facilities
- HL7 Applications in Healthcare
- Electronic Medical Record Systems
- What Does It Mean to Integrate HL7 and FHIR?
- HL7 Interfaces, Engines, and Strategies
- HL7 Interface Engines
- Strategies in HL7 Integration
- FHIR Integration: Elevating Healthcare Information Exchange
- Final Thoughts
Tons of healthcare data are produced and analyzed for important insights every second. Currently, around 30% of the world’s data is being created from healthcare industries. And the estimated compound annual growth rate is set to hit 36% by 2025. Hospitals and healthcare institutions have various computer systems for various activities, such as billing and patient tracking. These ecosystems need to connect when new information is sent or pulled. Yet, not all of them can do that.
HL7 International provides a range of standards, guidelines, and methods for healthcare systems to connect. These data standards ensure information is shared and processed in a uniform and consistent way. The ultimate goal is to lower the geographic barriers and variability that can come from medical care. Despite its importance in today’s interconnected world, healthcare providers may need to know the advantages of integrating HL7. This post discusses the core relevance of HL7 integration, its benefits, and various cases where it can be used in medical practice.
HL7 (Health Level Seven) is a set of standards formulated to enable sharing of healthcare-related information between different systems, such as EHRs (Electronic Health Records), healthcare providers, and insurers. Created in 1989 to tackle the interoperability issue among healthcare systems, this standard provides guidelines to facilitate data sharing and bridge the gap between healthcare applications.
Currently, two versions are being used: HL7 v2, which is still most widely employed and uses a delimited format to transfer data, and HL7 v3, which utilizes eXtensible Markup Language (XML) to represent self-describing data.
The seven-step communication process used by HL7 to ensure compatibility between systems is as follows:
- The physical connection to a transmission medium.
- Data linking to control errors between adjacent nodes.
- Network routing of information.
- Control of end-to-end communication.
- Non-communication problem-solving.
- Conversion of information.
- Provision of services to applications
An interface engine uses all the layers mentioned above to collect and distribute HL7 data, with layers 1 through 4 handling communication and 5 through 7 handling functionality.
APIs and HL7 facilitate communication and data sharing between differing programs. However, a firm grasp of health level seven and application programming interfaces is required to appreciate the distinctions between the two.
Health Level 7 (HL7) was the initial standardized data interchange format utilized in healthcare. It supplied a uniform structure that applications could use for transmitting data about patients to each other. Despite this, encryption and strong integrity checking were not incorporated when the format was first introduced. Nevertheless, many applications are still relying on it.
The Final Rule of the 21st Century CURES Act is a significant development in healthcare data transfer. It allows patients to use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to access their health data via their preferred application, thereby fulfilling the original purpose of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The Security Rule requires organizations to secure data transmission, imposing additional controls to protect the integrity and detect any tampering in real-time. APIs offer a modernized alternative to HLA, using a uniform authentication format for applications to identify users correctly. Many websites and applications are currently employing this format.
If you want to know more about HL7 FHIR integration, you should definitely listen to our CareMinds podcast, particularly the episode with Redox specialist Nick McKenzie.
Nick went on to work with the EHR integration architecture, which he compares to building a house, where an entire team of contractors, roofers, electricians, and plumbers work cohesively under an architect.
“I was always fascinated with this idea of being the translator helping clinicians translate their requirements into what they wanted the system to be designed and then translating back to the technical teams how to execute and interestingly enough. It’s all that product management really is.”
Application Programming Interface
Human Level 7
APIs, including SMART and FHIR, can support standard medical portals
Does not provide comprehensive support for technologies
Due to the convenience of “on-demand” data retrieval, APIs are favored over HL7
Data is provided by HL7 on a subscription basis, implying that it will be obtained regardless of whether or not it is immediately required
More precise definitions of security rules are provided by APIs, further facilitating interoperability between systems
HL7 can secure data but with limitations in encryption and robust integrity checking
The following are reasons why using HL7 is so important in the healthcare industry.
Healthcare professionals can utilize HL7 to quickly and conveniently access patient data from multiple sources, making savvy decisions promptly.
HL7 provides a standardized language for data and information exchange, thus promoting unification in the healthcare system by ensuring that all data is registered, stored, and exchanged in the same way.
By taking advantage of HL7, medical facilities can better administer their patients’ care by providing an encompassing view of their medical history; thereby allowing caregivers to readily access patient information and make the best decisions for their treatment.
Hospitals can establish a standard data-sharing methodology between various systems, guaranteeing that data is accurately and securely shared and enabling healthcare providers to make informed decisions concerning patient care.
Here are some examples of its application in the healthcare industry.
Integrating their existing patient records system with an HL7-compatible system allows a medical center to access patient records and information stored in multiple departments swiftly and effortlessly. This facilitates a hospital’s ability to identify and treat patients quickly and reduces expenditure and time on needless paperwork.
Implementing HL7 integration allows laboratories to rapidly and accurately process patient data and results. It promotes the rapid detection of potential issues and addresses them instantly, resulting in enhanced accuracy and effectiveness in testing results.
Linking their existing patient records and billing systems to an HL7-compatible system helps a healthcare provider quickly and easily process patient claims. This enabled the healthcare provider to save time and money on manual data entry while ensuring a higher accuracy rate.
HL7 integration allows for interoperability between providers, making it possible to share clinical and administrative data. For instance, physicians can conveniently send laboratory results to specialists for a second opinion.
HL7 integration enables EMR systems to communicate with one another and share patient data. This helps reduce the time spent inputting information manually and eliminates the possibility of data entry errors.
As already discussed, HL7 are standards used to define how healthcare information is collected, interpreted, and shared, making data integration more efficient and free of errors. Running a healthcare organization requires using multiple systems and technologies by doctors, administrative staff, accounting, and pharmacy staff. Most of these platforms are isolated and written in different programming languages, resulting in communication hiccups that can negatively affect patient care. Implementing HL7 integration allows 80% of the interface to be defined, leaving 20% of the interface available for customization.
FHIR (fast health interoperability resources), developed in 2011 by HL7, is the latest development in HL7 standards. Its integration allows improved security measures and larger data formats. FHIR incorporates functionalities of previous HL7 standards and additional features to make interoperability among healthcare applications even more efficient. Using web standards, communication across all systems can be achieved irrespective of system languages and specifics while removing the need to connect interfaces manually. Some technologies known to run using this standard include:
With different technologies used in various areas of a healthcare facility, a need for a standard approach to the handling of medical data resulting in substantial productivity delays and increased patient risks. With the segregation of data resulting in several inefficiencies, the need for a healthcare industry-accepted standard way of sharing healthcare data among several departments was apparent, resulting in the creation of HL7.
An interface defined in healthcare IT structures refers to programs implemented to facilitate seamless data transfer between systems using different messaging protocols. A typical example of an interface will be one connecting systems in the lab, pharmacy, registration, and an electrocardiogram machine.
Interface engines (integration engines) act as the guide to the exchange of data across systems from which it gets its nickname as the “traffic cop.” These engines act as the hub of a healthcare data exchange in a health facility. They are responsible for receiving, routing, and translating messages into the right formats to be understood by the recipient system, simplifying health integration processes.
Other ways interface engines communicate include; File transfer protocols (FTP), Direct database updates, and XML.
Examples of highly rated interface engines include;
Several strategies are employed in the integration of HL7.
- The development of a method of interoperability standards from a reference information model
- Creation of awareness on the benefits of information standardization to the healthcare providers and the public
- Creation of clear standards in health information sharing between systems
- Encourage HL7 interoperability use through affiliation with establishments
- Ensure HL7 standards are up to standard through collaboration with healthcare IT users
- Foster the participation of healthcare industry experts in HL7 to develop healthcare data standards in their various areas of expertise
Instead of rushing to implement the latest phase of your HL7 data integration, you should assess your health system and design a custom interface solution that meets your specific needs while still being affordable and scalable as your organization grows. Successfully integrate HL7 calls for a specialized interface team and coordinated testing from industry professionals.
Integration of FHIR entails three main steps:
- Interface planning
- Developing an interface
- Final testing and validation
Data entry duplication can be reduced, while user workflow is enhanced by employing application interoperability if HL7 interfaces are properly integrated. In a healthcare setting, HL7 interfaces can be found everywhere. Among these are “Admission, Discharge, and Transfer” (ADT), “Detailed Financial Transaction” (DFT), “Observation Results,” “Orders,” “Medical Document Management” [MDM]), “Master Files Notification” [MFN] and “Billing Account Record” [BAR] and so on.
Your business model and the features of each interface should be carefully evaluated before you settle on an integration strategy. This procedure will help you determine what features your ideal interface must have. Proper project execution also necessitates identifying and including the appropriate staff and clinicians.
After these have been discovered, a thorough examination of the procedure is necessary to detect data errors.
This step is further subdivided into:
- Execution phase during which interface engineers are hard at work developing and specifying each port and its associated data
- Interface building entails creating and incorporating necessary interface specifications, data types to be processed by the interface, and record numbering schemes
- Testing: as the name suggests, testing is where flaws in the flow of information from its originator to its intended recipient are discovered
The complete HL7 integration is examined in this stage, from its structure to its content. To put it simply, this is the most crucial stage. It is also sub-divided into:
- Unit testing: The goal is to catch mistakes the interface engineer may have missed, resulting in more precise data.
- Integrated testing: During this testing stage, data is examined both from the upstream and the downstream perspectives.
In conclusion, HL7 integration is an important process for the healthcare industry, enabling hospitals to access and share patient data in a secure and efficient manner. With the right tools and expertise, organizations can easily implement HL7 integration and benefit from its many advantages. We recommend you start by assessing your needs and resources for the project. The team at The APP Solutions has years of experience in the healthcare IT industry and is highly knowledgeable in the complexities of data integration. We work with you every step of the way to ensure that the process goes smoothly and that all of your needs are met.