2009/04/22

All About HL7 Messaging

By: Anton Pearce

Health Level 7 (or HL7) messaging is a means by which the vast array of medical health databases can "speak" to each other in a common language. Since the late 1980's, there has been an explosion of various vendors offering health information technology systems all designed around unique aspects that each vendor felt was important. While the individuality made it appealing to different segments of the medical community, problems with integration and communications among various IT systems became evident. In other words, a patient's information in a hospital could not be conveyed to a radiology center or pharmacy because each had different operating systems. This problem has continued even today and presents a challenge to developing integration of healthcare systems nationally and internationally.

In this regard, informatics specialists began to designate a "code" or language that could be used in designing different health information technology systems. From this came HL7 messaging, which allows interfaces between different electronic systems to communicate. Prior to this, customized programs had to be written to accommodate two systems allowing conversion of informational traffic both ways so successful integration could occur. This was very time-consuming and cumbersome, not to mention costly. Now approximately 80 percent of health IT systems contain a core of HL7 messaging so the ability to design HL7 interfaces is much easier than before.


Why is this important? For a start, the ability to enhance communication between two different IT systems allows patient data to be transferred along a continuum of their care. This creates better knowledge of a patient's condition across the board and prevents duplication of expensive diagnostics due to the lack of prior health information. In addition, larger data pools across large networks connected through HL7 messaging interfaces enhance evidence based outcomes data and clinical research data. This has the potential to dramatically improve healthcare quality.


HL7 messaging interfaces provide a solution for the need to share medical and clinical information among systems without the extensive work of customized programs, and they also continue to allow some individuality among different IT solutions software which is important for the different style of clinical practice. By having a language framework of HL7 messaging "code" at their core, various IT systems can transfer key information that can then be formatted into an end product consistent with their unique product. On the user's end, they still enjoy a tailored product that they desire, but at the same time can have access from many other systems which contain a patient's information.


As a need to contain healthcare costs become an increased burden due to greater longevity of life and increasing costs of technological medical advances, the need to have various health informatics systems communicate well is going to be crucial. Having HL7 as the core language allows interfaces to relay information between systems that will help contain these expenses. Soon, all IT systems in healthcare will carry this basic framework. That means instead of a healthcare system having to spend enormous amounts of time and money in joining a new universal system, they can simply create a HL7 interface that allows communication to other systems. This will be the easy solution moving into the future.


If you are unaware of HL7 messaging interfaces, this is an area you may need to become familiar with as time moves forward. Ultimately, all healthcare systems will require this in order to provide the best quality care at a reasonable expense. Resources are limited and wasting this valuable healthcare information due to a lack of integration will eventually be intolerable in comparison to the need for improving healthcare. These solutions even now are very feasible options to meet the immediate need for IT integration.


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1 comments:

Ivan on April 22, 2009 at 1:27 PM said...

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