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HL7 Tutorial—How to Use the 4 Most Common HL7 Messages

Jun 2, 2020

Health Level Seven (also known as “HL7”) is a set of international standards, rules, and definitions used to exchange and transfer medical information between healthcare providers through electronic health records (EHRs). You can learn more about what HL7 is in our article on the subject, but there’s a bit of a difference between knowing what something is and how to use it. 

In this article, we’ll be giving you a bit of an HL7 tutorial by covering some of the most common HL7 messages as well as how you’d use them. Let’s dive in, shall we? 

What are HL7 Messages? 

HL7 messages are used to transfer data electronically between various healthcare providers. Think of it as a special language healthcare systems use to talk to each other. These messages are sent whenever an event happens with a patient, such as admitting them to the hospital or ordering them a prescription. HL7 messages are made up of segments in a specific sequence, but some of those segments aren’t required every time and sometimes they’re even repeatable. 

HL7 Message Types

Every HL7 transaction uses certain message types to explain why you’re sending that specific message. These message types have a code of three characters and a trigger event. What’s a trigger event? Great question. A trigger event is a real-life event that starts the communication needed for a message. Both the message type and trigger event are found in the MSH-9 field of the message—let’s take ADT-A03 as an example. “ADT” is the message type, and “A03” is the trigger event. This is known in HL7 Standard as a “patient discharge” message.  

There are over 80 HL7 message types, not to mention all sorts of other segments and codes for pretty much everything and anything you can think of. For the sake of brevity, let’s go over four of the most commonly used kinds.

Most Common HL7 Messages and How to Use Them

Patient Administration (ADT)

ADT is the most common HL7 message in HL7 because it covers a lot of use cases, including patient admissions, discharges, transfers as well as merging of patient data and more. 

Orders (ORM)

ORM is a general order message that’s used to transmit information about an order, which could be anything from placing a new order, canceling an order, discontinuation, and so forth. Trigger events for this message deal with any changes to an order, so whenever an order is created, canceled, or modified, you’d use an ORM message.

Results (ORU)

You’ll usually use ORU in response to an order to provide clinical observations. Types of observations reported in an ORU message include imaging study reports, clinical lab results, EKG pulmonary functions study results, or patient conditions (such as vital signs, symptoms, notes, etc.)

Charges (DFT)

A DFT message describes a financial transaction transmitted between systems and is used for patient accounting purposes (and so that claims can be generated). Trigger events for a DFT message include procedure ordered, scheduled, or completed. 

Partnering with HL7 Experts

As you can see, these are just a handful of the many, many, many variations of HL7 messages you can use. Folks in the healthcare industry sometimes refer to the HL7 messaging standard (somewhat dubiously) as the “non-standard standard,” because it is a standard that healthcare organizations need to adhere to, but the way they implement this framework can be different. Add in the new option and features that come out with every upgraded version of HL7, and things get even more complicated.

But if you’re looking to implement a new solution or solve integration issues in your healthcare facility, you don’t have to go it alone. By partnering with someone who can tackle your unique challenges and ensure you’re in compliance with HL7 standards, you can look forward to some smooth sailing. Surety Systems, for example, has a wide network of senior-level healthcare interoperability consultants who can tackle just about any EHR system or platform. 

To get started on your healthcare IT project, contact us today.

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