Healthcare professionals know that accurate and timely information exchange is crucial to patient care, and HL7 messages play a pivotal role in facilitating that communication between healthcare systems.

So what is an HL7 message, and how do they work?

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of HL7 message structures, their components, and their significance in healthcare data exchange, as well as where our team of HL7 consultants can help create, manage, and optimize your HL7 messages.

Get ready to unlock the secrets of an HL7 message and learn how they enhance interoperability and clinical data exchange in healthcare environments… Let’s dive in!

Short Summary

  • An HL7 message consist of segments, composites and delimiter characters structured to enable healthcare data exchange.
  • Trigger events provide information about the purpose and content of an HL7 message while Health Information Exchanges facilitate interoperability between disparate systems.
  • Implementing HL7 involves customizing message structures and addressing integration challenges with other solutions for improved accuracy in data exchange.

Understanding HL7 Message Components

An HL7 message, associated with specific trigger events like patient administration transactions, are a hierarchical structure designed for electronic data exchange in healthcare systems.

These messages are human-readable and consist of segments, composites, and delimiter characters, which structure the information for seamless communication between various applications, including central patient care systems.

To better understand the components of HL7 messages, let’s take a closer look at segments, composites, and delimiter characters, and how they come together to facilitate the exchange of critical healthcare data.

Segments in an HL7 Message

Segments in an HL7 message are the building blocks that provide specific categories of information, such as patient information or patient visit data.

Every segment is comprised of a set of fields that follow a predetermined data type. This ensures that the data is as accurate and consistent as possible. And, the initial field of each segment, a three-character identifier, is used to determine the segment’s name.

For example, an HL7 message may contain an MSH (message header) segment, a PID (patient identification) segment, and an OBR (observation request) segment. The order and number of segments depend on the particular message type and trigger event, which define the requirements and sequence of the associated data.

Composites and Sub-Composites

Composites, also known as fields, are components within segments separated by pipe characters. A composite may contain sub-composites, which are further divided by caret characters. These composites follow a defined sequence to ensure proper data organization and interpretation.

For instance, the patient name in the PID segment is an example of a composite. It can be further broken down into sub-composites, such as given name, family name, and middle name. By organizing data into composites and sub-composites, an HL7 message can efficiently structure and transmit complex healthcare data while maintaining readability.

Delimiter Characters in HL7

Delimiter characters play a crucial role in structuring an HL7 message. They are special characters used to separate fields and segments in the message. For example, HL7 utilizes the following delimiter characters:

  • The carriage return character (r, which is 0D in hexadecimal) to separate segments
  • The pipe character (|) to separate composites
  • The caret character (^) to separate sub-composites

These delimiter characters help organize and structure an HL7 message effectively and ensure that the information in an HL7 message is organized, making it easier for healthcare systems to parse and interpret the data.

HL7 Message Types and Trigger Events

HL7 messages come in various types, each with specific trigger events that determine the information and segments included. Message types, like DFT (detailed financial transaction), are used to categorize messages according to their type.

Knowing the type of message being transmitted is essential for proper evaluation and handling. In contrast, trigger events, such as ADT-A01 (patient admission), initiate the exchange of data between systems.

The message type and trigger event can be located in the MSH-9 field of the message, providing valuable information about the purpose and content of the message. And, understanding message types and trigger events is essential for healthcare professionals and developers working with an HL7 message.

Identifying Message Types

Identifying message types helps users understand the purpose and content of an HL7 message. For instance, an ADT message type is related to patient registration, while an ORU message type is associated with laboratory results.

Each message type has a specific three-character code, which can be found in the HL7 message, providing context to the information being exchanged. Understanding message types is essential for successful HL7 message exchange, and knowing the message type helps ensure that the message is delivered correctly to the right recipients.

Common Trigger Events

Trigger events are real-world events in healthcare that initiate the exchange of data between systems. Understanding trigger events is essential for healthcare professionals, as they provide context to the data being exchanged and ensure that the correct information is transmitted between systems.

Common trigger event examples include:

  • Patient admission (ADT-A01)
  • Patient discharge (ADT-A03)
  • Patient transfer (ADT-A06)
  • Patient update (ADT-A08)

HL7 in Healthcare Information Systems

HL7 plays a significant role in healthcare information systems, enabling these systems to share and apply data, enhancing interoperability and clinical data exchange between different disparate systems.

By providing a messaging standard for the electronic transmission of health-related information, HL7 helps healthcare organizations streamline their core business processes and improve patient care across the board.

From patient administration and scheduling to laboratory automation and medical document management, an HL7 message is utilized extensively in healthcare environments to ensure accurate, timely, and secure communication of critical data.

Interoperability Challenges

While an HL7 message offer numerous benefits, healthcare organizations still may face interoperability challenges due to variations in vendor implementations and the complexity of the actual HL7 message structures. Ensuring data accuracy, integrity, and security are primary challenges associated with managing inconsistent information across multiple sources and information systems.

Training staff on HL7 message structures, developing a comprehensive understanding of these structures, and comprehending the implications of HL7 message structures can also be challenging tasks for healthcare organizations.

Clinical Data Exchange

Clinical data exchange is the lifeblood of modern healthcare information systems. HL7 messages play a pivotal role in facilitating the exchange of electronic health records and other clinical information, such as records for patient admissions, laboratory records, and billing information.

Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) are essential in advancing clinical data exchange by enabling interoperability between disparate healthcare information systems. And, by providing a standard format for the transmission of health-related information, HIEs help healthcare organizations improve the efficiency, accuracy, and security of their data exchange processes.

HL7 Versions and Standards

HL7 has evolved through various versions, including 2.x, 3 and FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources). Each version offers improvements and additional features for healthcare data exchange, providing healthcare organizations with more robust and flexible messaging options.

FHIR, for example, implements functionality from versions 2.x and 3, using web services for the exchange of HL7 messages with nonclinical applications. This allows medical professionals to access key medical services remotely from various locations, using their own mobile devices.

Patients can also access their personal health records and interact directly with some medical systems, such as viewing laboratory test results or scheduling a consultation, through access to the central patient care system on their personal devices.

Evolution of HL7 Standards

The evolution of HL7 standards has led to better support for data variations, formal structures, and web services for easy communication with nonclinical applications.

HL7 Version 3, for example, was created as a comprehensive rethinking of the original HL7 standard, intended to be more consistent and formally structured. And, HL7 Version 2.x has been extended with additional capabilities, including conformance testing and implementation planning tools.

More recently, the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard was released by HL7 International in 2014. FHIR is designed to improve the interoperability of a healthcare facility, incorporating functionality from both HL7 Version 2.x and Version 3.x.

By continuously evolving HL7 standards, healthcare organizations have access to more powerful messaging options, ensuring seamless data exchange and improved patient care.

Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) Standard

The Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) is an HL7 standard for structured clinical documents, enabling the exchange of electronic health records and other clinical information. The clinical document architecture standard is based on XML, defining the structure and semantics of clinical documents for efficient data exchange.

By using the CDA standard, healthcare organizations can:

  • Facilitate the exchange of electronic health records in a structured and secure way
  • Allow for seamless integration of data from various sources
  • Provide a uniform format for data exchange
  • Improve patient care

Transaction Sets in an HL7 Message

Transaction sets enable healthcare organizations to manage and exchange various types of information. Transaction sets in an HL7 message group them based on type or purpose, such as:

  • Patient administration for admittance, transfer, demographic, and discharge information
  • Patient ID information
  • Patient care
  • Billing information
  • Scheduling information

Understanding transaction sets is essential for healthcare professionals, as they provide context to the data being exchanged and ensure that the correct information is transmitted between systems. And, by categorizing messages based on type or purpose, transaction sets in an HL7 message can efficiently structure and transmit complex healthcare data.

Patient Administration Transactions

A Patient Administration Transaction provides demographic and patient visit data as an unsolicited update or query response. They are utilized in HL7 messages to offer demographic and visit information regarding patients, such as in Patient Administration (ADT) messages.

This information is provided as an unsolicited update or query response, ensuring that healthcare organizations have access to accurate and up-to-date patient information. Examples of Patient Administration transactions include:

  • Patient admissions
  • Patient discharge
  • Patient transfer
  • Patient update

By offering demographic and visit information, Patient Administration Transactions play a critical role in maintaining accurate patient information and facilitating seamless data exchange within healthcare organizations.

Financial Management Transactions

Financial Management Transactions handle patient billing and accounts receivable information, facilitating financial processes in healthcare organizations. These transactions encompass:

  • Data entry and manipulation on billing accounts
  • Charges
  • Payments
  • Adjustments
  • Insurance
  • Other financial aspects related to healthcare services

For example, the HL7 Detailed Financial Transaction (DFT) message is utilized for exchanging financial data between various systems and billing systems for patient accounting operations. By managing patient billing and accounts receivable information, Financial Management Transactions help healthcare organizations streamline their financial processes and ensure the accuracy of financial data.

Implementing HL7 in Healthcare Organizations

Implementing HL7 in healthcare organizations involves customizing messages and addressing integration challenges to ensure seamless data exchange between systems.

Customizing HL7 messages allows healthcare organizations to exchange data between different applications without changing their software, reducing costs, enhancing data accuracy, and expediting data exchange.

To successfully implement HL7 in a healthcare organization, it’s crucial to understand the HL7 message structure, identify data requirements, and create or modify the HL7 message structure to accommodate specific data requirements.

Addressing integration challenges using data integration platforms can also help parse, transform, and filter HL7 messages for easy interpretation, ensuring seamless communication between healthcare systems.

Customizing HL7 Messages

Customizing HL7 messages involves:

  • Modifying or creating custom structures within HL7 messages to fulfill specific data requirements or business needs
  • Adding custom segments
  • Altering existing segments
  • Defining custom schemas

Customizing HL7 messages enables healthcare organizations to:

  • Interchange data between different applications without altering their software
  • Reduce costs
  • Enhance data accuracy
  • Expedite data exchange

Integration Challenges and Solutions

Integration challenges, such as ensuring data accuracy, integrity, and security, can be addressed using data integration platforms. These platforms enable healthcare organizations to parse, transform, and filter HL7 messages for easy interpretation, making it easier to streamline integrations and work with HL7 messages.

Data integration platforms utilize algorithms to perform the following tasks:

  • Parse HL7 messages into their structural components, including segments, composites, and delimiters
  • Transform the message into a more readily comprehensible format, such as XML or JSON
  • Filter HL7 messages to enable users to select only the necessary data

By employing data integration platforms for HL7 message interpretation, healthcare organizations can decrease the time and effort needed to interpret messages, as well as enhance accuracy and dependability.

How Can We Help?

Whether you need help understanding the need for HL7 message structures in your organization, additional support building a plan for HL7 implementation or integration projects, or just an extra hand keeping up with new clinical documentation standards as they arise, Surety Systems has you covered.

Our team of senior-level HL7 consultants have the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to handle all your HL7 project needs, from medical document management to HL7 message creation, trigger events, and everything in between.

Your technology. Your priorities. Our expertise. That’s the name of the game at Surety Systems.

Getting Started with Us

Interested in learning more about HL7 message structures and how they can help facilitate more efficient data management and exchange across your organization? Ready to get started on a project with our team of expert HL7 consultants?

To learn more about where our healthcare integration consultants can fit in your organization, click here or contact us today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is HL7 used for?

HL7 is an international set of standards used for the transfer and sharing of data between healthcare providers, enabling seamless communication within the industry.

It is designed to ensure that data is exchanged in a consistent and secure manner, allowing healthcare providers to access and share patient information quickly and accurately.

How does HL7 messaging work?

HL7 messaging works by encoding data into segments, which are then sent as a single unit. These segments are displayed on different lines of text and separated by carriage returns.

Each message has a specific message type that defines its purpose, such as for transmitting patient data from one system to another.

What are the primary components of HL7 messages?

HL7 messages are composed of three primary components: segments, composites and delimiter characters, which enable electronic data exchange between healthcare systems.

These components are used to structure the data in a way that is both meaningful and easily understood by the receiving system. The segments are the basic building blocks of the message, and they contain the data that is being exchanged.