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HL7 Interface Standards – 3 Challenges

By sovita.chander@caristix.com | Published: March 13th, 2014

Introducing the Interoperability Tips Series from Caristix

If you’ve seen our HL7 Survival Guide, you know it’s chockablock full of valuable information for interoperability and HL7 projects. (If you haven’t seen the HL7 Survival Guide, get a copy here). We’re starting a series of brief snippets and actionable tips based on learnings from the Guide.

Use these tips to get your interoperability projects up and running, educate leadership on interoperability, and sell your vision.

Here’s the first tip.

Reading time: about 2 minutes

HL7-Interface-Standards-3-ChallengesTip 1: HL7 Interface Standards and 3 Challenges

When you’re starting with HL7, you need a clear idea of what you’re up against. Here are the three main challenges we routinely see with HL7 data. They’re all about format, content, and what the data really means.

1. Customizable HL7 Format

Version 2 among the HL7 interface standards specifies a data structure based on trigger events, segments, fields, and data types. The recommended structure must account for complex clinical workflows and data representations. This means that the standard allows for extensive customization even when product specifications exist. As a result of the many variances and adaptations of the HL7 interface standards, there’s no truly standard way that systems are implemented and data is handled. In other words, plug and play is not part of the vocabulary.

2. Configurable and Customizable HL7 Data Tables and Code Sets

HL7 interface standards provide a recommended set of data values for transactions. But the values can be customized. In fact, they should be customized or configured under certain circumstances. Again, this means that data can be handled differently in each system. Some translation and data mapping need to occur during data exchange so each system sends/receives data it can understand.

3. HL7 Data Semantics

Good data semantics implies that the meaning or intent of the data – not simply the data value itself – is exchanged accurately. It’s essential for HL7 interfaces to convey their interpretation of the HL7 interface standard in use – or confusion will ensue. It’s the difference between NA standing for “Not Applicable” or “No Allergies”.

Business Translation

What does this mean to a business leader?

First, keep in mind that just about every interoperability project relies on HL7 data. And with HL7 interface standards today, there is no such thing as plug and play. Why? Because of those 3 challenges around format, content, and what the data actually means.

You might be wondering: won’t Meaningful Use Stage 2 fix these problems? No. Meaningful Use prescribes a broad, basic format and broad, basic content. But each and every provider still has customizations – choices – to make. These choices depend on the meaning (or semantics) of their data. The way to speed up interoperability and interfacing delivery is to fully capture  business and technical requirements up front, and convey them accurately and completely to developers.

Address the challenges that come with HL7 interface standards. Get the right resources – people, technology and processes – to capture those requirements and overcome these hurdles.

Download the HL7 Survival Guide

Download the HL7 Survival Guide