With the discussion on healthcare interoperability escalating, it is good to take a step back and outline some basics of an HL7 interface. Understanding an HL7 interface is essential as well as approaches to take in implementing a growing number of HL7 interfaces.
What is HL7? HL7 is the most widely used standard to facilitate the communication between two or more clinical applications. The prime benefit of HL7 is that it simplifies the implementation of interfaces and reduces the need for custom interfaces. Since its inception in the late 1980’s, HL7 has evolved as a very flexible standard with a documented framework for negotiation between applications. The inherent flexibility makes deploying HL7 interfaces a little more challenging at times.
Who uses an HL7 interface? There are several types of roles involved with HL7 interfaces, including clinical application analysts, integration specialists, application programmers, and systems analysts.
How should you approach an HL7 interface? To facilitate communication between two healthcare applications, a modest HL7 interface includes:
- An export endpoint for the sending application
- An import endpoint for the receiving application
- A method of moving data between the two endpoints
- A method for handling the queuing messages
- A method for logging the flow of messages
Logic tells us that each healthcare application must grant access to accept and send patient data and have rules of what it will accept and what it will send. Frequently, the access grant will be hard-and-fast rules rather than flexible ones that provide easy methods for exchanging data. This access to data is usually tightly controlled by each application vendor to ensure data integrity within their application.
To implement an HL7 interface between two or more applications, providers usually implement either a point-to-point interfacing approach or utilize an interface engine. A white paper which outlines these two approaches is entitled What Is Your Healthcare Interfacing Approach?
(If you’re on the market for an interface engine, see OTB Solution’s Thirteen Steps to Selecting the Right HL7 Interface Engine)
On this site, we have written many posts about working with various healthcare standards with a strong focus on HL7 interfacing and messaging. Outlined below are three posts worth a read to gain further insights on developing and testing HL7 interfaces.
- Getting Started with Your HL7 Interface: Highlights what to ask for and what to ask about as it relates to HL7 messaging.
- HL7 Specifications Defined: Defines what should be included in a healthcare interface specification.
- HL7 Sample Messages – Always the Best Way to Go: Outlines the importance of getting sample HL7 messages when developing an interface.
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