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The Role of HL7 Integration in Healthcare Communication

HL7 integration services

Different medical systems in clinics and hospitals, such as hospital information systems (HIS), electronic health records (EHR), radiology information systems (RIS), electronic medical records (EMR), and lab information systems (LIS), use different communication languages. The increasing number of healthcare applications in the digital health industry further complicates this system. A unified communication language for all systems and applications in the medical field is essential to ensure efficient, reliable, and high-quality healthcare.

This is where HL7 or HL7 integration services play an integral role.

What is HL7?

HL7, introduced in 1987, is a universal communication language for medical systems and applications. It ensures consistent communication across various functions of the healthcare industry. Today, the entire communication process in healthcare relies on HL7 messages.

Developing HL7 involves close collaboration among application catalysts, system analysts, application programmers, and integration specialists.

Meaning of HL7

HL7 stands for Health Level Seven, derived from the seven layers of the ISO communication model:

  1. Physical: Connects the medical facility to the transmission media.
  2. Datalink: Manages and minimizes errors between adjacent nodes.
  3. Network: Routes information across the network.
  4. Transport: Controls end-to-end communication.
  5. Session: Manages non-communication issues.
  6. Presentation: Transforms information.
  7. Application: Delivers services to applications.

Layers 1 to 4 handle communication, while layers 5 to 7 focus on functionality. Each layer is vital for transferring or retrieving medical communications between different systems.

What are HL7 Integration Services?

HL7 integration services facilitate the exchange of healthcare information between different systems and applications within healthcare facilities. These services use HL7 (Health Level Seven) standards to ensure consistent and accurate communication across various medical platforms, such as electronic health records (EHR), hospital information systems (HIS), lab information systems (LIS), and radiology information systems (RIS). HL7 integration services enable these diverse systems to share data efficiently, fortifying overall functionality and coordination of healthcare operations.

Objective of HL7

HL7 strives to provide a unified language to facilitate faster and more secure medical data sharing. Getting data interoperability requires a logical and simplified workflow to ensure high quality, precision, and cost-effectiveness for healthcare providers.

What does HL7 Integration do?

Healthcare facilities typically use several HL7-enabled systems and applications. To fully utilize the language’s potential and achieve higher efficiency and reduced costs, healthcare providers need an HL7 integration engine. This engine assists in integrating all systems and applications, ensuring the benefits of an integrated healthcare system.

HL7 integration can be accomplished in two ways:

Point-to-Point Integration

This method involves creating dedicated interfaces for data communication between two systems or applications. While it simplifies data recognition between the linked systems, it requires multiple interfaces, which can be cumbersome. For example, connecting four systems with ADT data would require four separate interfaces.

HL7 Integration Engine

Acting as middleware, the HL7 integration engine connects different systems by converting data formats and orchestrating message workflows. This approach eliminates the need for multiple point-to-point interfaces. The main difference between point-to-point interfaces and integration engines lies in the range of functionalities they support.

When considering HL7 integration, the primary focus should be on the integration strategy, regardless of the HL7 version chosen. It is imperative to identify your facility’s needs and determine the most suitable integration method and functionalities.

Who Uses HL7 Integration Software?

Over 90% of healthcare facilities in the United States, including hospitals and private clinics, have integrated HL7. Globally, more than 25 HL7 organizations work to establish it as a standard in the healthcare industry. The main users of HL7 integration software include:

  1. Clinical Interface Specialists: These specialists create tools or applications that enable data sharing and recognition between medical systems. They manage data communication between healthcare providers and systems.
  2. Government or Regulatory Authorities: These authorities share healthcare data with multiple entities for compliance or standardization. They often need to communicate data between different healthcare entities, even those not covered by existing interfaces.
  3. Medical Informaticists: These professionals work in healthcare informatics, focusing on healthcare logic and the creation of clinical knowledge. They aim to develop or adapt clinical ontologies.

Challenges of HL7 Integration

  1. Variance in HL7 Standards Implementation: Differences in how HL7 standards are implemented can increase integration time and cost. This variance requires programmers and system analysts to maintain multiple code bases and integration points, demanding more dedicated resources.
  2. Unreliable HL7 Data Semantics: Explicit data interpretation is crucial in healthcare. Misinterpretations due to inconsistent data semantics can affect data quality and healthcare delivery. For instance, “NA” could mean “Not Applicable” or “No Allergies,” and “3” might denote “Smoker” or “Former Smoker” in different systems. Clear communication of data semantics is essential to avoid such issues.
  3. Unplanned EHR Migration: Migrating EHR systems carries risks, including data loss. Some facilities maintain multiple EHRs, requiring staff to manage multiple logins. Others may transfer data to a new system, but unplanned migration can lead to legacy data loss. Prioritizing essential data for migration and ensuring compatibility can mitigate these challenges.

HL7 vs. FHIR 

HL7 (Health Level Seven) is a set of international standards that transfers and shares data between various healthcare systems, ensuring that different applications can communicate effectively. hl7 and fhir (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), developed by HL7 International, are climactic in modernizing healthcare data exchange. FHIR, building on the older HL7 standards, utilizes modern web technologies such as RESTful APIs. It aims to simplify data exchange and enhance interoperability between healthcare systems. HL7 and FHIR enable easy access and the efficient and secure sharing of health information across different platforms.

In A Nutshell 

HL7 integration services are vital for efficient, accurate, cost-effective healthcare operations. They ensure seamless data exchange, reinforce patient care, enrich business excellence, reduce costs, aid in regulatory compliance, and allow for future technological growth. By leveraging these services, healthcare facilities can provide better care and maintain smooth, interconnected systems.

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