Those who’ve spent any amount of time in the world of healthcare IT have probably asked themselves, “What is HL7?” at one time or another. Even if you know that HL7 means “Health Level Seven,” why levels? (And why are there seven of them?) Read on to learn a bit more about what HL7 is, why it’s called that, how healthcare IT professionals use it, and how an expert healthcare integration consultant can help you make the most of it.

What is HL7?

First, let’s explain the name. The “level” and “seven” in HL7 refers to the OSI model, or Open Systems Interconnection model, a way of thinking about telecommunication and computer systems. Starting at the first layer, Physical, we work our way down to the seventh and final layer, the Application level, where HL7 lives. The purpose of the OSI model in general (and HL7 in particular) is to provide a common set of standards for everyone to use to ensure that systems can interact with each other sensibly.

In other words, while HL7 does refer to the “Application” layer, it’s not a program or a technology itself, but rather a big “book of rules” that says how healthcare technologies should communicate with each other. (Essentially, it’s like an international referee that says that everybody in the healthcare world can write in different languages, but they need to use the same rules for translation.)

So if HL7 is composed of a number of different standards for healthcare interoperability, what are those standards?

What Are the Primary HL7 Standards?

There is a lot to HL7 (which is why having an expert on your side is helpful when it comes to navigating them), but there are a handful of standards that the HL7 organization considers “primary,” i.e. the most popular and frequently used standards in system integrations and interoperability. The primary HL7 standards are…

C-CDA Implementation Guide

A library of CDA templates, this guide is an updated harmonization of several previous HL7 components, including HL7, Integrating the Healthcare Experience (IHE), and Health Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP).

CDA® Release 2

This standard defines what a “clinical document” is, how they must be structured, and what their semantics look like so that they can be intelligently shared between healthcare organizations.

FHIR® R4 (HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, Release 4)

An interoperability standard, FHIR is designed to make the exchange of healthcare info between patients, carers, researchers, healthcare organizations, (and anyone else involved in the healthcare ecosystem) as seamless as possible through the use of a content model as well as specifications for how that content can be exchanged.

HL7 Context Management Specification (CCOW), Version 1.6

The purpose of the CCOW standard is to ensure that applications are integrated at the point of use. CCOW provides a framework for how internal applications programming and runtime environment infrastructure should be created so that they are synchronized and that patient information can be consistently accessed, even from a wide variety of sources.

Version 2 Product Suite

What is likely the most widely implemented healthcare standard in the world, HL7 V2 is a messaging standard that says how clinical data should be exchanged between systems, from central patient care systems to more segmented healthcare systems where data is divided up by department.

Version 3 Product Suite

HL7 V3 Normative Edition (based off the HL7 Reference Information Model) is an interoperability standard that focuses on messages and electronic documents expressed in XML syntax. 

How to Make the Most of HL7

Now that we know what HL7 is, how do healthcare professionals actually use it? Beyond the obvious (“They take advantage of EHR platforms that conform to HL7 standards”), most doctors, nurses, and other folks in the industry interact with HL7 through the kind of messages they send to transmit information from one system to another. For example, ADT is a message type that means “Admit, Discharge, Transfer,” MFN refers to “Master files notification,” an ACK is a general acknowledgment, and DFT refers to “Detailed financial management.”

By sending messages in this HL7 format, people that work at one hospital or clinic can communicate effectively with anyone who also uses the HL7 standards, improving efficiency and understanding and making sure that their patients receive excellent care based on accurate information, no matter where they roam.

The HL7 Experts You Need

Even if they use exactly the same solution, every healthcare provider uses its EHR platform a little bit differently, which is why HL7 is such a vital part of medical service. Complying with the primary HL7 standards can be easier said than done, however, unless you have an expert on your side. That’s where Surety Systems comes in.

Surety Systems has an expansive network of senior-level healthcare interoperability consultants with experience in a myriad of different EHR systems and platforms. No matter how niche or unique your specific situation might be, we can connect you with just the right consultant to help you untangle your thorny healthcare integration issue. Let us focus on handling your technical problems so that you can get back to doing what you do best—providing outstanding patient care.

Contact us today to get started.