Health Level 7: Interoperability Is the Future

Just as people need to speak a common language to understand each other, computer applications need to communicate with a common protocol to share data. HL7 protocol development started in 1987 to allow healthcare applications to securely exchange clinical data with each other. Over time, HL7 has become globally accepted, widely accredited, and recognized as the most commonly used set of interoperability standards in the world.

What is HL7?

Health Level 7, or HL7, is a set of international standards produced by Health Level Seven International, a global standards development organization. These standards define how electronic health information is transferred between medical applications – in other words, how it is exchanged, integrated, shared, and retrieved.

HL7 standards can be divided into the following categories:

  • Primary Standards, which include the most frequently used standards related to system integrations, interoperability, and compliance
  • Foundational Standards, which define the fundamental tools and blocks used to build the standards, as well as the technology infrastructure that implementers of HL7 standards must manage
  • Clinical and Administrative Domains, which contain messaging and document standards for clinical specialties and groups
  • EHR Profiles, which provide functional models and profiles that enable the constructs for the management of electronic health records
  • Implementation Guides, which include support documents and other supplemental materials
  • Rules and References, which comprise technical specifications, programming structures and guidelines for software and standards development
  • Education & Awareness, which contain helpful resources and tools to further supplement understanding and adoption of HL7 standards

HL7 in Practice

According to the HL7 standards, health-related data is sent as a message, which transmits one record or item of information. Patient records, laboratory records, billing information, and similar clinical and administrative data are typical examples of such messages.

HL7 messages can be transferred, for instance, between a rural hospital, where the number of doctors is small, and a large city hospital that has much more resources. Health information, such as the blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature of the patient, is sent to a remote database, where an experienced doctor can access and analyze it to provide medical advice, a diagnosis, and treatment.

In fact, the HL7 protocol can be used in various projects requiring medical device interoperability. More than that, the HL7 protocol can be implemented to access the databases of a number of hospitals and retrieve statistical information. HL7 not only makes doctors’ work easier – it allows patients to digitally manage their healthcare.

Auriga’s Experience of Working with HL7

Today, HL7 standards are recognized as one of the top three sets of interoperability standards used in contemporary medical devices and systems, along with DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) and CCR (Continuity of Care Record). Auriga has strived to become part of the HL7 expert community and enhance its expertise in health data interoperability.

Last year, Auriga started a new in-house project dedicated to the development of an open-source library to provide interoperability for medical devices based on the HL7 protocol. The solution would allow any medical equipment manufacturer to find us on the Internet, obtain all the necessary documentation, access our source code, and use it in their own projects under an open source license.

Auriga’s team implemented a script to exchange data between a patient monitor and a clinical laboratory. The idea is that a patient who needs laboratory testing is assigned a unique identification number, and data on the necessary tests is sent from the patient monitor to the lab. When the tests have been completed, the results are automatically sent back to the patient monitor.

The initial prototype developed for Linux and then ported to Windows is now available on both operating systems. The application is of particular interest to clinics, as doctors no longer need to collect data from different sources. All information is now displayed on patient monitors, which helps make the course of treatment faster and more effective.