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Why HL7 Interoperability Standards Matter for the Future of Healthcare Data

HL7 inoperability standard

The inability to retrieve, access, and use a patient’s most up-to-date medical information at the point of care can be a major barrier. It costs healthcare providers, physicians, and patients valuable time and money. If implemented well, HL7 standards, and healthcare data interoperability have the potential to save lives, decrease costs, provide better care delivery, and reduce administrative burdens for healthcare providers and staff across the industry.

Why Interoperability Matters

From healthcare providers, physicians, and caregivers to individual patients, a broad range of stakeholders benefits from secure and accessible health data. Individuals and caregivers must be able to readily access essential information at the right time. Patient connectivity to their data allows them to become active participants in their own care. This helps them self-manage care while streamlining provider workflows.

Consumers might be more familiar with other forms of medical device interoperability, such as wearables. As with health data, medical device interoperability is equally important for enabling physicians and providers to access, analyze and exchange data across devices, technologies and information systems. It also presents similar benefits for stakeholders across healthcare, helping to improve care delivery, reduce human error and enable more diverse datasets.

HL7 (Health Level Seven International) Standards and Categories

A good example of a framework that enables interoperability is Health Level Seven International’s  (HL7) standards. HL7 standards were created in 1987 by HL7. It is a non-profit organization committed to creating a set of international standards. These standards aim to facilitate and harmonize “the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information” between healthcare providers.

HL7 standards divide into several reference categories:

  1. Primary standards: The most popular standards for system integrations, interoperability, and compliance.
  2. Clinical and administrative domains: Messaging and document standards for clinical specialties and groups.
  3. Implementation guides: For implementation guides and support documents to be used in conjunction with an existing standard.
  4. Rules and references: Technical specifications, programming structures, and guidelines for software and standards development.

Of the three extant versions of HL7, the most commonly adopted is HL7 v2. Used in almost 35 countries and up to 95 percent of US healthcare organizations, it’s a messaging standard that enables the exchange of patient care and clinical information between healthcare providers. This allows them to send messages requesting and containing health data.

The Benefits of Implementing HL7 Interoperability Standards

From billing to updating patient records, healthcare providers use a variety of applications for administering and organizing patient data and delivering care. While electronic health systems (EHR) throughout the US have steadily increased in adoption since 2011 and can access information from outside healthcare providers, less than half of hospitals are integrating the data into an individual’s patient record. Interoperability, through the implementation of HL7 standards thus ensures that data can be integrated seamlessly across systems and utilized efficiently by healthcare providers and staff.

Implementing HL7 standards provides guidelines. These help software vendors and healthcare providers store and uniformly move data without additional software conversions. This helps to unify data delivery, storage, and retrieval. Implementing these standards across reliable, interoperable medical devices can also create new models of care.

The Challenges of HL7 v2

Despite the perks of interoperability with HL7 v2, it has presented its own set of challenges. In addition to being hard to implement, HL7 v2 cannot exchange unstructured data, like images and status documents. In addition, it can be challenging for developers to learn due to HL7 v2’s interface. It differs from other API technologies like REST, XML, and JSON.

Building and implementing standards-based interoperability solutions can be tricky, especially if you’re unfamiliar with its unique challenges. Star HealthTech Technology Consulting can determine what approach best suits your short and long-term goals, help you navigate the complexity of the MedTech and Digital Tech market, and design solutions that improve health outcomes and patient-centric care. Likewise, whatever approach you choose to take, Star consultancy services are ready to give you guidance and a strong roadmap for building interoperable HealthTech solutions.

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