The Health Level Seven (HL7) organization is an ANSI accredited Standards Developing Organization. Volunteers from around the world gather in quarterly meetings to produce and refine documentation that describes how clinical information will be shared between disparate healthcare applications in a provider setting.
What is HL7? Practically speaking, HL7 is the standard to which healthcare application vendors adhere when developing application interfaces to exchange patient data. The HL7 standard defines a method of moving clinical data between independent medical applications in near real time.
One would expect that by adopting the HL7 standard interfacing applications would be a ‘plug and play’ exercise. In reality, the commercial vendors of healthcare applications bend and customize HL7 to meet the needs of the customer and their systems. This is necessary to accurately exchange patient data.
Chapter 1 of the HL7 standard Version 2.3 states that “HL7 provides a common framework for implementing interfaces between disparate vendors”. The standard is intentionally flexible; designed to allow customization but inhibits ‘plug and play’ implementations.
In summary, HL7 Version 2 messaging is the acknowledged healthcare industry standard, and the best protocol available to date for exchanging clinical data among disparate cooperating systems in a healthcare setting.