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Why HL7 Interfaces remain crucial for healthcare data Interoperability?

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

At Data InterOps we believe that HL7 interfaces remain crucial for healthcare data interoperability, despite the rise of FHIR integrations.

But Why? Let's Deep Dive


HL7®, and FHIR® are the registered trademarks of Health Level Seven International and their use of these trademarks does not constitute an endorsement by HL7
HL7®, and FHIR® are the registered trademarks of Health Level Seven International

The ongoing importance of HL7 Interfaces & HL7 Integration stems from their compatibility with legacy systems, widespread adoption in the healthcare industry, and suitability for specific use cases. By utilizing both HL7 interfaces and FHIR integrations, healthcare organizations can bridge the gap between old and new systems, gradually transitioning to FHIR while ensuring seamless data exchange and maximizing interoperability for improved patient care.


We've highlighted a few key points below to help support our case.


#1 - Legacy Systems


Many healthcare organizations have been using HL7 v2.x interfaces for years, and their existing systems are built around this standard. Transitioning to FHIR might require significant investment in resources, training, and development, which can be challenging for some organizations. As a result, HL7 interfaces remain an essential component of their infrastructure to ensure data exchange with other healthcare systems. In addition the most widely used legacy systems offered by Allscripts, GE Healthcare Centricity, NextGen Healthcare, eClinicalWorks, Meditech, Epic, Cerner Millennium etc still widely use HL7 Interfaces to exchange healthcare data between their systems.


#2 - Widespread Adoption


The HL7 v2.x standard is deeply entrenched in the healthcare industry, and a significant number of healthcare organizations, including hospitals, labs, and other service providers, still rely on HL7 interfaces for communication. This widespread adoption makes it necessary for organizations to continue supporting and implementing HL7 interfaces to ensure seamless data exchange with their partners.



#3 - Incremental Change


While FHIR has gained significant traction, it is still a relatively new standard, and not all healthcare organizations have adopted it yet. As a result, HL7 interfaces can act as a bridge, allowing organizations to gradually transition to FHIR while maintaining compatibility with existing systems.



#4 - Coexistence with FHIR


Many healthcare organizations are using a hybrid approach, incorporating both HL7 interfaces and FHIR integrations to maximize interoperability. This allows them to take advantage of the benefits of FHIR while maintaining compatibility with systems that still rely on HL7 interfaces. Below are a few reasons why hybrid approach is still suited best for today's healthcare data interoperability. 1. Telehealth Integration: A healthcare organization uses FHIR to integrate telehealth solutions with their EHR system, while retaining HL7 interfaces to communicate with billing systems and insurance providers. This hybrid approach enables a seamless flow of information from remote consultations to patient records and billing, enhancing patient care and streamlining the billing process.

2. Research and Analytics: A hospital leverages FHIR APIs to extract and aggregate data from various EHRs for real-time analytics, population health management, and clinical research, while maintaining HL7 interfaces to communicate with external labs, radiology centers, and other healthcare organizations. This approach allows the hospital to efficiently analyze large volumes of data, derive valuable insights, and make informed decisions for improved patient care.

3. Patient Engagement: A clinic uses FHIR-based patient portals and mobile apps to provide patients with real-time access to their health records, while still relying on HL7 interfaces for communication with other healthcare providers and ancillary systems. This hybrid approach empowers patients to actively participate in their healthcare while ensuring seamless data exchange between healthcare providers.

4. Interoperability in Large Healthcare Networks: Large healthcare networks, comprising multiple hospitals, clinics, and other care providers, often use a mix of EHR and PM systems with varying degrees of HL7 v2.x and FHIR support. By adopting a hybrid approach, these networks can ensure effective data exchange and communication across their diverse systems, enabling a more coordinated and efficient care delivery.

5. Emergency Care: In emergency situations, healthcare providers may need to access patient information from various sources quickly. A hybrid approach, combining HL7 interfaces and FHIR integrations, allows for rapid information retrieval from different systems, ensuring critical patient data is available when needed most.



#5 - Specific Use Cases


In some cases, HL7 interfaces may be better suited for specific use cases or scenarios, particularly when dealing with systems that exclusively support HL7 v2.x messaging. As a result, healthcare organizations might choose to implement HL7 interfaces alongside FHIR to address these particular needs. For E.g. A hospital using a Laboratory Information System (LIS) that exclusively supports HL7 v2.x messaging for communication. In this scenario, the hospital might have adopted FHIR for exchanging patient data with other healthcare providers, such as clinics or specialists. However, to ensure the seamless transfer of lab orders (ORM) and lab results (ORU) between their Electronic Health Record (EHR) system and the LIS, they need to implement an HL7 v2.x interface, as the LIS only supports HL7 v2.x messaging.


By utilizing both the FHIR integration for communication with external healthcare providers and the HL7 v2.x interface for their internal LIS, the hospital can effectively address this specific use case while maintaining compatibility and ensuring comprehensive data exchange across various systems


Conclusion


In conclusion, while FHIR integrations are becoming more common, HL7 interfaces still play an important role in healthcare data interoperability. Hospitals, labs, and other healthcare service providers can continue to benefit from HL7 interfaces due to their widespread adoption, compatibility with legacy systems, and suitability for specific use cases. By leveraging both HL7 interfaces and FHIR integrations, healthcare organizations can ensure comprehensive data exchange across various systems and maximize interoperability. Maximize interoperability with Data InterOps HL7 interfaces & integration services, linking healthcare systems for seamless data exchange & enhanced patient care.




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