Imagine a world where healthcare organizations can seamlessly share patient data elements, leading to better-informed decisions, improved patient care, and cost savings in the long run…

Well, luckily for you, this vision is becoming a reality with the evolution of healthcare data exchange standards, like FHIR and HL7. But what are the key differences between these two standards, and how can organizations make the best choice for their needs?

Join us in exploring the key differences between FHIR vs HL7, their evolution, advantages, and practical applications, as well as best practices for transitioning between them and where our team of expert healthcare integration consultants can come in to help maximize either solution.

Short Summary

  • FHIR and HL7 are standards for exchanging healthcare data, with FHIR offering enhanced security measures, mobile device compatibility, and simpler implementation.
  • HL7 is widely used for data management in hospital systems, while FHIR can be leveraged to create innovative mobile health apps for patients and providers.
  • Organizations can successfully transition from HL7 to FHIR by following best practices such as a phased approach and leveraging cloud-based solutions.

Understanding HL7 and FHIR

Health Level Seven International (HL7) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) are two healthcare data exchange standards designed to address the growing need for interoperability and health data exchange across the healthcare industry.

Both HL7 and FHIR were created by Health Level Seven International, with FHIR incorporating the most beneficial aspects of HL7 V2, HL7 V3, and Clinical Document Architecture (CDA). FHIR offers advanced capabilities in comparison to HL7 V2, such as one-to-many data exchange, robust security functions, and simplified implementation, which contribute to better healthcare interoperability.

In essence, HL7 is an international standard for exchanging healthcare data, while FHIR is an open standard that facilitates the exchange of data between new applications and legacy systems. FHIR’s features provide numerous advantages over HL7, such as simpler implementation, compatibility with mobile devices, and improved security measures when dealing with clinical document architecture.

Practical applications of these standards include HL7 being utilized in hospital systems for exchanging clinical documents, and FHIR being employed in mobile health apps.

The Evolution of HL7

HL7 is a set of international standards for exchanging healthcare data within the healthcare system. HL7 V2, the most widely adopted version, lacks an explicit model for messages, a semantic framework, and a methodology for constructing messages, posing a drawback in the healthcare industry.

On the other hand, HL7 V3, while aiming to be more comprehensive, proved to be difficult to implement and lacked backward compatibility with HL7 V2 and support for RDF data formats.

It’s worth noting that the Meaningful Use criteria, a federal incentive program in the U.S., was designed to encourage healthcare providers to adopt certified electronic health record (EHR) systems in hospitals. This program pushed for the adoption of HL7 standards, particularly V2 and V3, in healthcare organizations.

The Emergence of FHIR

FHIR is a modern standard that incorporates the beneficial components of previous HL7 versions with contemporary web technologies to facilitate interoperability and efficiency in Electronic Health Records systems.

FHIR simplifies complicated data exchange processes by utilizing the same technology and agreement on the meaning of data in healthcare as travel websites do for airlines. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) resources are discrete units of exchange that can be exchanged logically, and starter APIs are provided for popular programming languages to facilitate testing and implementation.

The use of RESTful APIs and open web technologies in FHIR is a stark contrast to HL7’s reliance on traditional messaging systems. This modern approach to data exchange provides numerous advantages over HL7, including streamlined implementation, increased compatibility with mobile devices, and improved security features.

Key Differences Between HL7 and FHIR

To sum up the key differences between HL7 and FHIR, we can focus on three main aspects: data exchange methods, messaging formats, and interoperability capabilities.

In terms of messaging formats, FHIR supports JSON and XML formats, while HL7 primarily uses XML. Lastly, FHIR offers greater interoperability with a wide range of systems and devices compared to HL7, enhancing communication and data exchange in the healthcare industry.

Let’s take a closer look at the main contrasting elements between the two resources:

Data Exchange Methods

FHIR utilizes RESTful APIs and open web technologies to facilitate data exchange, which offers significant advantages over HL7’s traditional messaging systems. RESTful APIs in FHIR provide the benefit of:

  • Replacing point-to-point interfaces with one-to-many interfaces, thus facilitating the exchange of data and reducing the time required to onboard new data exchange partners.
  • Quickening data sharing.
  • Simplifying the onboarding process of new data exchange partners by replacing point-to-point interfaces with one-to-many interfaces.

In contrast, HL7 relies on traditional messaging systems for data exchange, which can lead to extensive local negotiations and limitations in the V2 standard. The shift towards RESTful APIs and open web technologies in FHIR has revolutionized data exchange in the healthcare industry, providing a more efficient and flexible solution.

Messaging Formats

FHIR supports both JSON and XML formats for messaging, offering a flexible solution for various healthcare systems. JSON, in particular, is lightweight and easily readable, making it an ideal choice for mobile devices and applications.

The support for multiple messaging formats in FHIR allows for seamless data exchange between different systems and devices, ensuring that healthcare information can be easily shared and accessed.

On the other hand, HL7 primarily utilizes XML for messaging, which can be more challenging to read and parse, especially on mobile devices. While XML is widely used in healthcare systems, the adoption of JSON in FHIR provides a more versatile solution that caters to the growing demand for mobile health applications and improved data exchange.

Interoperability Capabilities

Interoperability capabilities refer to the capacity for different systems and devices to communicate and exchange data with one another. FHIR provides enhanced interoperability with a broad range of systems and devices in comparison to HL7, which means it’s more versatile and adaptable to the evolving needs of the healthcare industry.

This improved interoperability enables healthcare providers to have better access to patient data, leading to more accurate diagnoses and improved patient outcomes.

In contrast, HL7’s interoperability capabilities are somewhat limited compared to FHIR due to its reliance on traditional messaging systems and XML formats. As healthcare organizations continue to adopt modern technologies and embrace digital transformation, the need for improved interoperability becomes increasingly important.

This is where FHIR’s advantages in terms of data exchange methods, messaging formats, and interoperability capabilities truly shine.

Advantages of FHIR over HL7

FHIR offers numerous advantages over HL7, including simpler implementation, mobile device compatibility, and improved security measures. These advantages stem from FHIR’s modern approach to data exchange, which leverages RESTful APIs, open web technologies, and support for JSON and XML formats.

FHIR’s resource-oriented model offers several advantages:

  • Each message contains a single resource, making it more efficient and lightweight for mobile devices.
  • FHIR provides various options for data exchange between systems, enabling patients to have control over their care.
  • FHIR aids payers and providers in collaboration.

Easier Implementation

FHIR was created with developers in mind, featuring a straightforward and intuitive data model that simplifies the implementation of healthcare data exchange standards, reducing time and cost for healthcare organizations.

FHIR’s efficiency facilitates quicker and more effective data exchange between systems, ensuring that healthcare providers have access to up-to-date and accurate patient information.

FHIR’s flexibility enables healthcare organizations to create their own data models, which means that they can tailor the implementation to their specific needs and requirements. This adaptability, combined with the use of modern web technologies and open standards, makes FHIR an attractive choice for organizations looking to improve their healthcare data exchange capabilities.

Mobile Device Support

FHIR’s compatibility with mobile devices and wearables is a significant advantage over HL7.

This compatibility allows for the development of mobile health apps that can easily access and exchange healthcare data, ultimately improving patient care and engagement. The lightweight nature of JSON, one of the supported messaging formats in FHIR, makes it an ideal choice for mobile devices and applications.

By enabling seamless data exchange and integration with mobile devices, apps, and wearables, FHIR empowers patients to take control of their healthcare and actively engage in their care. This enhanced patient engagement has the potential to lead to improved health outcomes and a more efficient healthcare system.

Enhanced Security Features

Security is a top priority in healthcare, and FHIR provides improved security features compared to HL7. FHIR supports modern security protocols, such as OAuth2 and OpenID Connect, which help protect sensitive healthcare data from unauthorized access. FHIR also relies on RESTful web services and open web standards, which provide a secure foundation for data exchange and integration.

These enhanced security features ensure that patient data is protected while being exchanged between systems and devices. As healthcare organizations continue to digitize their operations and embrace new technologies, it’s crucial to prioritize security and safeguard patient information.

FHIR’s commitment to security makes it an attractive choice for healthcare organizations looking to improve their data exchange capabilities while maintaining the highest levels of data protection.

Real-World Applications and Use Cases

FHIR and HL7 have quite a few real-world applications and use cases that showcase their practical benefits in healthcare settings. FHIR facilitates the development of mobile health apps that can easily access and exchange healthcare data, enhancing patient care and engagement.

Meanwhile, HL7 is widely used in hospital systems to enable communication between different applications and devices, streamlining data exchange and improving patient care. By understanding the strengths and limitations of both standards, healthcare organizations can make informed decisions on which standard to adopt and implement across their system.

FHIR in Mobile Health Apps

FHIR’s ability to enable the development of mobile health apps that can easily access and exchange healthcare data has significant implications for improving patient care and engagement.

FHIR’s practical applications include prior authorization assistance, payer coverage determination exchange, and medical reconciliation procedures.

By simplifying implementation, offering mobile device compatibility, and providing improved security measures, FHIR empowers healthcare organizations to create innovative and user-friendly mobile health apps.

The use of FHIR in mobile health apps offers several benefits, including:

  • Enhances patient engagement
  • Enables healthcare providers to access critical patient information on-the-go
  • Leads to more accurate diagnoses
  • Improves patient outcomes

As mobile technology continues to advance and become more prevalent, FHIR’s compatibility with mobile devices positions it as a leading standard for healthcare data exchange in the digital age.

HL7 in Hospital Systems

HL7 is commonly deployed in hospital systems to enable communication between different applications and devices, optimizing data exchange and patient care across the board.

Some practical applications of HL7 include:

  • Facilitating the smooth collection and processing of patient information in hospitals
  • Granting access to patient records and documents in healthcare facilities
  • Connecting patient records and billing systems for efficient processing of patient claims
  • Establishing a global standard for the movement of clinical data

While HL7 has served the healthcare industry well for many years, the emergence of FHIR and its focus on modern web technologies, RESTful APIs, and mobile device compatibility offers new opportunities for healthcare organizations to improve their data exchange capabilities.

As the industry continues to evolve and embrace digital transformation, organizations must carefully consider the advantages and limitations of both HL7 and FHIR in order to make the best choice for their unique needs.

Transitioning from HL7 to FHIR

Migrating from HL7 to FHIR can be a complex process, but with careful planning and consideration of best practices, healthcare organizations can make a smooth transition. Challenges in migration include technical differences between the two standards, the need for expertise in both standards, and potential risks for vendors.

To overcome these challenges, organizations can adopt a phased approach, leverage cloud-based solutions, and partner with experienced healthcare IT providers.

Challenges in Migration

The transition from HL7 to FHIR presents certain challenges, such as the complexity of the standard, the need for expertise in both HL7 and FHIR, and the lack of resources available to healthcare organizations.

The high cost of adoption is attributed to the need for healthcare organizations to invest in new technology, training, and resources to implement FHIR. Vendors may also face potential risks, such as becoming locked into a single vendor, experiencing data breaches, and not being able to keep up with evolving standards.

To understand and address these challenges and ensure a smooth transition, organizations must:

  • Carefully assess their existing systems and processes
  • Allocate resources for training and education
  • Develop a strategic plan for implementing FHIR
  • Mitigate potential risks

Best Practices for Migration

To overcome the challenges of migrating from HL7 to FHIR, organizations can follow several best practices.

  1. Adopt a phased approach to FHIR implementation to gradually transition from HL7, minimizing disruption and reducing the risk of errors.
  2. Leverage cloud-based solutions for scalability and flexibility, enabling organizations to adapt to changing needs and requirements.
  3. Partner with knowledgeable healthcare IT providers to provide valuable support and guidance throughout the migration process.

By adhering to these best practices, healthcare organizations can successfully navigate the transition from HL7 to FHIR, reaping the benefits of improved data exchange capabilities, enhanced interoperability, and better patient care. The move to FHIR may be complex, but with careful planning and execution, it can lead to significant improvements in healthcare data management and overall patient outcomes.

How Can We Help?

From helping your internal teams assess current electronic health information and management practices to outlining plans for more efficient health information exchange, facilitating stronger communication between teams and systems, and more, Surety Systems has you covered!

Our team of senior-level healthcare integration consultants has the skills and experience needed to lead you to success, regardless of the complexity of your organizational structure or the nature of your system and project needs.

Your technology. Your priorities. Our expertise. That’s just the way we roll at Surety Systems.

Partnering with the Best

Interested in learning how to easily exchange data using FHIR and HL7 technologies? Ready to get started on an implementation, integration, or migration project with our team?

Contact us today for more information!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between HL7 and FHIR?

HL7 uses XML as one of its data elements, while FHIR uses modern web technologies like RESTful web services, JSON, and RDF. This makes FHIR more modern and easily interoperable than HL7.

What is the difference between HL7 and SMART on FHIR?

The primary difference between HL7 and SMART on FHIR is the process involved. HL7 is a messaging standard while SMART on FHIR is an API standard, using open web technologies such as XML, JSON, and RDF to send and receive service requests.

Is HL7 outdated?

HL7 v2.x is becoming outdated in the face of new technologies and data exchange requirements, suggesting that HL7 is indeed outdated.

How does FHIR improve healthcare data exchange?

FHIR improves healthcare data exchange by using RESTful APIs and open web technologies to provide quick and efficient data exchange, as well as support for multiple messaging formats for better interoperability.

These technologies enable healthcare providers to quickly and securely exchange data, allowing for better patient care and improved outcomes.

What are the challenges in transitioning from HL7 to FHIR?

The complexity of the standard, the need for expertise in both HL7 and FHIR, potential risks for vendors, and the high cost of adoption present major challenges to transitioning from HL7 to FHIR.

These challenges can be daunting, but there are ways to make the transition smoother. For example, vendors can take advantage of existing resources to help them understand the differences between HL7 and FHIR, and to develop strategies for successful adoption. Additionally, vendors can leverage existing tools and services to help them.