When it comes to healthcare technology, varying software applications, and health systems need to exchange data constantly. In other words, they need to be interoperable. However, this is easier said than done; since there are compatibility constraints.
This is where an HL7 interface comes into the picture.
Introduction to HL7 Interface
HL7 or Health Level Seven is a bunch of standards for exchanging electronic health data. Custom healthcare software solutions incorporated into broader patient engagement systems require HL7 standards to function side-by-side and help providers deliver quality care.
HL7 interoperability standards have become an indispensable part of integrated healthcare solutions. They enable the seamless exchange of healthcare data between third-party applications and different types of electronic health records.
Why do We need HL7 Standards?
Healthcare software product development delivers different technologies for hospitals to be used by doctors, administrative staff, billing departments, and so forth. Each of these applications would have its development lifecycles, platforms, programming back-end, and operation.
For hospitals to function optimally, the software used by every department must ensure seamless electronic data interchange. This is where HL7 interoperability plays a crucial role. Health level seven ensures that various hospital software can communicate and work together without hassles.
Interoperability with Third-Party Health Applications
Modern healthcare systems need to work with third-party applications used for telehealth, medical informatics, billing, appointment scheduling, etc. So, every one of these applications must be accessible with a few clicks to enable doctors to focus better on delivering care.
The lack of a bridging system like the HL7 standard results in highly inefficient resources and poor health care management. Additionally, it also increases the risk for patients and doesn’t make good use of their data or hospital resources. In other words, HL7 interface solutions are vital for hospitals and healthcare organizations to adopt digital solutions and deliver the best patient care possible.
Interoperability with Health Systems
Modern health systems include numerous kinds of external software applications. The interoperability among these applications facilitated by HL7 integration helps hospitals and smaller clinics scale up and diversify their operations. As healthcare organizations grow, they’d need to integrate applications for ordering tests, viewing results, patient education, or remote health monitoring systems with existing EHR platforms. HL7 ensures that healthcare EHR systems can incorporate such software to empower hospitals to expand their range of services. Seamless data exchange among medical software is the lifeblood of modern healthcare, and it’s what HL7 interface systems accomplish.
What Challenges does the HL7 Face Today?
Conventional methods of HL7 integration have somewhat fallen behind on meeting the requirements of the evolving healthcare industry. Even though HL7 is reliable and time-tested, it’s facing some growing challenges such as,
Integration with Non-Clinical Applications
While HL7 interface solutions have been used only for integrating medical software, there’s a growing need to accommodate non-clinical interoperability. Providers increasingly prefer accessing patient data or SaaS applications on their smartphones.
To achieve this, the format of HL7 integration messages must be converted into those suited for relevant platforms. The next level of interoperability required by any HL7 interface must enable rapid data exchange between clinical and non-clinical data.
Cloud services have taken the software industry by storm. It won’t be a stretch to say that the future of software lies in the cloud. In light of this, medical software development has increasingly been gravitating towards healthcare cloud computing. Although the HL7 standards have been a silver bullet solution for healthcare integration, they’d need to adapt for the growing cloud revolution. Before the cloud, medical software would be installed on-premises, enabling HL7 to integrate them.
However, as medical applications move to the cloud, HL7 interfaces have difficulty ensuring interoperability. Advanced cloud-based telehealth solutions have rapidly gained popularity among doctors as well as patients. It allows them to access the application on personal devices while on the move and better patient experiences. But integrating cloud-based software with health systems has proven to be a challenge for health level seven. Healthcare integration solutions will have to account for this shift sooner rather than later.
What are the Steps to Build a Modern HL7 Interface?
Here are the steps to develop a modern HL7 Interface –
1. Data Sampling
The first step in developing an HL7 system for interfacing involves acquiring a sample of the data from an application that needs to be integrated. It could be something in particular included within broader practice management solutions or a simple telehealth application.
Be sure to use a tool that can capture this data in its appropriate format. Understanding this format is crucial for developing a relevant HL7 structure.
2. Assess the Nature of the Data
Discerning the kind of data from an application allows one to analyze HL7 data for interoperability using appropriate tools. Assessing this data highlights information about the segment and table grammar. This is a necessary step in the HL7 development workflow.
Doing so gives clarity on how to go about developing a suitable HL7 interface engine.
3. Develop the Initial Interface Tool
Having understood the kind of data at hand, the next step in this process is to know the segment and table grammar appropriate for this data. Different types of medical software have different functional workflows. So parsing health level 7 messages is crucial for a working HL7 interface software. Developing proper table grammar has to be done according to the initial data. It’s not recommended to bank upon run-of-the-mill HL7 information. This is because different companies use varying methods for HL7 implementation. Keeping this in mind, you can begin developing your HL7 interface software. Be mindful of the parameters that your software needs to adhere to.
4. Test the HL7 Interface Software for Bugs
Just like every software, gauging the functionality of an HL7 healthcare software needs to be thorough. Use transformation tools and notice the incoming and outgoing messages through the interface. As a good practice for HL7 interface development, testing the software in as many scenarios as possible is advisable.
5. Our Success Story of HL7 FHIR
The client required a framework for healthcare interoperability to manage data exchange between a provider and multiple organizations to facilitate access to patient data.
When a patient first arrives, their personal information is collected and an appointment scheduled. Interoperability is vital for sharing the patient’s data between health systems.
1. Obtaining a patient’s medical history
2. Repetition of the last medical test
3. Exchange of patient data and tests between providers and laboratories
4. Billing that includes provider charges and tests.
5. Claims Processing
6. Interfacing practice management and EHR
OSP develops the Care quality application. It connects the Client’s PHI data server with providers to exchange patient details, history, tests, reports, etc. In this way, it improved the interoperability between various systems and facilitated exchange between gateways.
This was achieved through an interoperability framework using Care Quality Directory API and Implementor Gateway API.
Care Quality API –
It contains the following functions –
1. Create Organization
2. Query Organization
3. Update Organization
4. Delete Organization
5. Bulk Directory Acquisition
Implementor Gateway API –
Components include –
- Nominal Flow – For allowing requests for a responding gateway to match a patient by demographics.
- Alternate Workflow – To find service parameters by HCID and Service Endpoint.
- Error Flows – To detect errors in patient matching, data locator, Responding Gateway, etc.
The application developed by OSP simplified patient data management, claims processing, linking providers with patients, and document sharing.
The HL7 medical standard has enabled large integrated healthcare solutions to be implemented at hospitals. Moreover, it has also enabled medical organizations to scale the digital side of their operations. The trend of the HL7 interface is here to stay. While this standard has worked wonders in healthcare technology, it has arrived at a stage where it must evolve to adapt to the cloud. In addition to the cloud, automation is another place that HL7 healthcare interoperability must embrace. As automated healthcare solutions are becoming the norm, developers must also adjust the HL7 implementation process to stay relevant.
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Written by Riken Shah linkedin
Riken's work motto is to help healthcare providers use technological advancements to make healthcare easily accessible to all stakeholders, from providers to patients. Under his leadership and guidance, OSP Labs has successfully developed over 600 customized software solutions for 200+ healthcare clients across continents.