What is HL7 and why does healthcare need it?

HL7 standards act as a bridge between modern healthcare services and advancing information technology.

What is HL7? 

Health Level Seven (HL7) is a set of international standards used to provide guidance with transferring and sharing data between various healthcare providers.  

The HL7 standards were created by Health Level Seven International, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing a comprehensive framework and related standards for the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information. The adoption of these standards supports clinical practice and the management, delivery and evaluation of health services.  

HL7 is supported by more than 1600 members from over 50 countries, including 500+ corporate members representing healthcare providers, government stakeholders, payers, pharmaceutical companies, vendors/ suppliers, and consulting firms.  

Why does healthcare need HL7? 

Many healthcare providers, particularly specialists, are required to access multiple electronic systems to see relevant diagnoses for a patient. This can be even more challenging if they provide services in outpatient clinics that are not integrated with the local hospital system. This is where Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) comes in and HL7 interoperability standards, such as the messaging format HLv2 or the most recent FHIR, exercise their value.

By providing a common language around content and structures for clinical data classes (e.g. diagnoses, allergies, procedures, …) data can be exchanged across EHRs without ambiguity and risk of misinterpretation. 

What are the benefits of HL7? 

HL7 standards act as a bridge between modern healthcare services and advancing information technology.  

Compliance to HL7 standards increases the number of contexts and services that can be included in aggregating the modern longitudinal patient record.  

As a reflection of the healthcare shift towards the adoption of emerging data types and devices, the standards have been evolving to maintain their relevance and defining the rules to support new use cases. From traditional messaging and document-based paradigms to the most current APIs.

Maximise value from EHRs 

The two most prominent topics in healthcare IT are EHRs and interoperability. Most healthcare providers use a range of applications (e.g. radiology, laboratory or patient administration systems) for their daily requirements. 

To maximise value from EHRs, data sharing and, therefore, interoperability is crucial. The problem arises when communication between the various applications and software is hard to achieve. Additional complexities arise when two different healthcare providers need to share information.  

To maximise value from EHRs, interoperability is crucial. Having visibility over data that has been generated elsewhere, can be hard to achieve, sometimes impossible if systems expose information in a proprietary way that makes sense only to them. 

HL7 provides the necessary guidelines to help software vendors and healthcare providers to store and share data. This ensures that data can be integrated easily across systems, exposed in a cohesive manner and appreciated in its entirety by healthcare providers and staff, reducing in turn administrative burden, while improving care delivery. 

Minimising duplication of work and improving clinical efficiency 

Patients often have many touchpoints with healthcare providers in their lifetime. For instance, an encounter at a GP could result in a referral to a physio, medication from the pharmacy, lab tests and might result in hospitalisation.  

In instances like this, patients cannot be expected to carry around their entire health record with them. Standards like HL7 make more data available to healthcare providers and enable them to make better clinical decisions more efficiently to provide the best care for their patients. 

How can Orion Health help with HL7? 

The Amadeus platform supports several HL7 standards out of the box, from HL7 v2 to C-CDA, to FHIR. Interoperability is at the core of our solution, allowing the integration of an extensive set of systems that can share data via messaging, document-based exchange or APIs.

By complying to HL7 guidelines, Amadeus solution ensures that relevant patient information is available at the right time in the correct format, even when sourced from disparate settings, providing a rich and comprehensive view of individuals and populations.  

Interested in learning more about how Orion Health incorporates HL7? 

Read our previous blog “Six ways interoperability improves healthcare delivery and patient experience“.

This blog is the second in the series of blogs on all things FHIR. The next in the series will look at the basics of FHIR.