Why Should HL7 Be Integrated Into Healthcare Solutions ASAP?

Everyone knows that all the healthcare institutions worldwide were challenged in an unprecedented way during the COVID-19 pandemic. But today we are going to raise this question in terms of data exchange.

The healthcare industry is extremely complex, and most medical institutions used different types of software solutions that “spoke diverse languages”. Before COVID-19 data exchange was primarily manual, but even if it was stored within an IT system of a hospital, it was often dissociated and poorly structured.

A single hospital could use Hospital, Radiology, Laboratory Information Systems, EMR Electronic Medical Records (EMR), and a Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS). Each of the systems could gather and generate data but in different formats. It prevented effective communication between the departments. Such was a harsh reality of pre-pandemic time.

Smooth communication and seamless data exchange are vital aspects of delivering timely and effective care. That’s why an HL7 – Health Level Seven was designed. It addresses the communication issues, providing the necessary structure to the clinical data content.

But let’s start with a brief definition of HL7.

HL7 What Is It, and Who Uses It?

Health Level 7 is a set of international messaging standards for electronic data exchange, integration, sharing, and transferring between healthcare providers. The standards help healthcare providers deliver better care because they enable interoperability. The health level 7 standards were created by a non-profit Health Level Seven International to enhance interoperability between healthcare data systems and to support clinical practice, management, delivery, and valuation of health services.

The standards are used by healthcare organizations: clinics, hospitals, medical centers, pharmacies, laboratories, doctors, care homes, medical research institutions, and vendors of medical software and hardware.

Internal departments of a hospital, like physiotherapy, X-ray, administration, finance, and so on exchange data through HL7.

Another category to mention is specialists like medical researchers, IT systems developers, and healthcare organizations that share data with other institutions and users.



Client Manager

Why Should HL7 Standards Be Integrated into Healthcare Operations?

The key reasons to use HL7 standards in healthcare are naturally cost-efficiency and data uniformity.

According to estimates, the HL7-based interoperability techniques result in an overall healthcare cost reduction of around $30 billion a year.

But how is it achieved?

Through some factors:


Today, it’s a critical aspect of healthcare, because different institutions use different software solutions with different functionality. Naturally, they are programmed in diverse languages to provide the necessary features for medical or scientific staff. Hospitals often utilize complex customized systems, while general practitioners prefer solutions out-of-the-box, at the same time research institutes may use the software installed in their research center or university.

When these institutions face the necessity to exchange data about patients, problems may set in due to diverse data formats. HL7 International came to the rescue and created a common HL7 protocol for healthcare organizations. So now they can create data in a universal format available for anyone with authorization in their systems.

Workflow automation

EHR system implementation is challenging and costly, but HL7 facilitates data exchange optimization and makes it automated. It helps to

  • reduce administrative burden,
  • decrease operational and labor costs and
  • improve clinical performance.

Better patient services

HL7 standards can be used to develop software with multifaceted services for patients. Modern patients expect service at a certain level and online access to personal, medical, diagnostic, and prescription data is highly preferable for them as patients.

HL7 standard integration can dramatically speed up the process of decision-making in medicine by data formats inconsistencies removing and delays in queries between systems minimizing.

You can create a platform, where patients can schedule appointments, set reminders as to procedures, medication, tests, review their medical history, etc.

The case of such app development by Stfacon can be found here.

What is more, various health devices, like insulin pumps or wearable heart monitors, and digital health apps can be added to a sustainable data ecosystem through an HL7 framework.

Healthcare staff shift management

Through HL7 integration into the hospital work processes, the medical staff workload can be decreased and optimized. We have the case of HospApp development in our portfolio. Real-time data can be viewed, analyzed, and shifts between medical workers and doctors can be distributed fairly.


HL7 is somewhat of a nonstandard standard. The framework allows certain customization so that healthcare institutions can craft their software solutions according to their unique requirements. It’s possible to develop interfaces for data exchange between different organizations without making changes to the software that is already in use

Global standard unification

HL7 is a platform and technology-independent standard for healthcare data exchange, accepted worldwide. So, it allows sharing of information in a consistent and streamlined manner, without misinterpretations, uncertainties, and delays. What is more, it facilitates data distribution to regulators and government agencies and ensures public health reporting standards.

Fostering collaboration to share medical research

HL7 drastically simplifies and facilitates health information sharing for reference or research reasons. It has the potential to foster collaboration between private and national healthcare institutions with governmental bodies and research entities to overcome national health crises, like the one caused by COVID. Further, the results of medical research data can be shared globally.

Moreover, companies dealing with the development of medical devices or biopharmaceuticals can then electronically exchange specifications with regulatory agencies.

So, with an HL7 we’ve got a well-designed and reliable mechanism to connect medical systems that already exist and build new unique digital solutions that will be smoothly integrated into a healthcare IT landscape.

What Is the HL7 Standard from a Technical Perspective?

The interface of the HL7 standard comprises two endpoints: for sending and receiving applications and a method of data transmission between them. They commonly use TCP/IP transport protocol.

The standards focus on Layer 7, where users interact with an application. It is concerned with data security, availability and exchange, access control, and error notifications.

The HL7 standards focus on layer 7, in the Open Systems Interconnection model it is the application layer. The OSI model regulates communication functions in computing systems and telecommunication.

Messages that adhere to HL7 specifications are ASCII-formatted. They must include the following crucial segments:

  • MSH - Message header, the first segment that contains the sender’s and receiver’s names, the time of message creation, and other important signature data.
  • PID - Patient identification, which includes patient demographic, SSN number, PHI, marital status, and some more personal details.
  • DG1- Diagnosis includes multiple fields for patient diagnosis parameters and description.

Other frequently used segments in HL7 messages include:

  • GT1 - Guarantor
  • EVN - Event type
  • IN1- Insurance
  • NK1- Next of kin/associated parties
  • OBR - Observation request
  • OBX - Observation result
  • NTE - Notes and comments
  • ORC - Common order
  • FT1 - Financial transaction

Each segment consists of specific data fields for the necessary details that must be properly marked with delimiters - specific symbols. It allows the receiving systems to easily interpret them all.

HL7 does not provide any plug-and-play interface engine standard, so you can use open-source interface engines supporting the standard. It simplifies the HL7 interface implementation and customization for different endpoints.

Seems, like it’s all a tricky thing to master, but if you trust the development of professionals, like Stfalcon, you just enjoy the result. Our team copes with all the technical details and challenges to implement your idea and provide a cutting-edge solution for you.

Let’s speak about the challenges a bit.

What Are the HL7 Integration Challenges?

Implementation variance

This can be by right mentioned first as the key challenge. The variation in the HL7 standards implementation often leads to increased time and cost of the integration. Programmers dealing with HL7 have to maintain multiple code bases and integration points.

Since the standards are specific to the healthcare sphere, more dedicated resources are required for integration development. What is more, interface replacement or addition influences all the related apps, and the entire communication network is impacted.

Possible misinterpretations due to HL7 data semantics

The healthcare system is highly complex nowadays, and the right interpretation of data values and their exact meaning is of vital importance. So, the HL7 must communicate their interpretation of the standards they use. “NA” can for instance mean “Not Applicable” or “No Allergies” and there are thousands of such examples. To preserve the quality of the healthcare data, and avoid dire consequences for patients, data semantics should be accurate, comprehensive, and interpreted correctly.

Legacy data loss because of unplanned EHR migration

The EHR migration is always about the risk for healthcare institutes. Often to avoid valuable data loss, healthcare facilities go with multiple Electronic Health Record systems. Doctors, physicians, and other medical staff have to maintain access to multiple platforms and sometimes even maintain paper records. Sometimes, when a facility decides to transfer the data into a new system, migration may lead to the loss of legacy data. It’s vital to prioritize data, decide upon the details for initial migration, and find ways to deal with data incompatibility or errors after its conversion into other formats.

Compatibility issues with HL7 versions

HL7 has now version 3 already, however, it’s not backward compatible with version 2.x. HL7 is not a plug-and-play solution and adaptation is needed for different data models, like in the case of matching the terminology of HL7 and vendor-specific one.

As of now, all these challenges may prevent organizations to implement HL7 standards on their own. However, if you offer them to solve this problem with your software solution developed to meet their needs, chances are high to get the clients and benefit.

Final Thoughts

HL7 standards provide a guide for how clinical data should be structured and shared. They are aimed to help healthcare organizations improve workflows, provide better healthcare more efficiently, and give patients access to their health records from their own devices.

Ignoring innovation is today high-priced. The COVID pandemic and consequent telemedicine adoption going in huge leaps, open the prospective of better, more robust, universal data environments.

As a company having carried out several projects for the healthcare industry, and with huge integration expertise, Stfalcon is eager to help clients with their transition to HL7. If you are in healthcare, do not hesitate to take it up right now. It’s a win-win situation for medical establishments and patients as well. The more you wait, the more challenges you will face, and we are now here to help.

Just contact us and let’s discuss how to get you an HL7-compliant data system ready.