EHRs are used by about 9 in 10 physicians across the United States. They have transformed the way doctors obtain patient information for diagnosis. However, for these systems to be optimized, they need to exchange and share information with other systems in labs, HIEs, and other departments. Interestingly, the CHIME 2020 survey revealed that EHR optimization was a top priority among CIOs. For effective health data integration, CIOs usually opt for standards such as HL7 and FHIR. And CIOs need to decide whether to build these in-house or to buy an HL7 interface and customize it.

Before committing tens of thousands of dollars to a new HL7 interface, you need to ensure that you have a detailed integration plan and road map. If you need to hire an HL7 expert to implement your plan or deploy a pre-built solution, here are some of the questions to ask your vendor or solution provider.

1. How many years have you worked on HL7?

Building interoperability interfaces with HL7 is not a trivial task. While the HL7 standard is not so difficult for an entry-level developer to understand, the implementation by various EHR vendors is not standardized.

This leaves room for vendors to implement messages, events, and data encryption flexibly. That’s why your HL7 developer must have sufficient experience in building interfaces for various types of EHRs, LIS, medical devices, and HIEs.

2. Do you build interface engines or one-off bi-directional projects?

Typically, a uni-directional HL7 interface requires three main components:

  • An endpoint for sending the desired HL7 message
  • An endpoint for receiving the HL7 message
  • A connection link (usually TCP/IP) for transmitting the message between the sender and receiver.

However, most interfaces will have a bi-directional interface that allows messages to be sent and received in both directions.

This design may be adequate for a single physician practice that needs to build an interface between an EHR and a lab’s LIS. However, most providers need an interface engine that can handle messages from multiple senders and receivers. It is a scalable solution that allows you to develop as many interfaces as necessary.

3. Which HL7 standard version do you work with?

HL7 was first released in 1987, and many revisions have been developed to improve the standard. At the time of this writing, the most recent is version 3.

One major drawback of the HL7 versions is the lack of backward compatibility in the early versions. Unfortunately, many legacy applications and medical devices still use these older versions of HL7.

That’s why you need to be sure that the HL7 solution will be compatible with existing interfaces and those you will build in the future.

4. How do you ensure data security?

Data security is an essential part of medical interoperability solutions. In this case, HL7 interfaces may transmit sensitive patient information such as names, addresses, next of kin, social security numbers, billing information, and insurance details.

Since many HL7 implementations do not fully encrypt HL7 messages in transit, the plain text messages can be captured and decoded. Newly developed HL7 interfaces need to implement more stringent security measures, including industry-standard data encryption, to reduce the risk of a data breach.

5. What type of support do you provide?

Your solution provider must offer 24/7 support. If messages are not sent or received or something breaks, you need a quick resolution to the problem.

Support should be built into the solution. If you deploy an interface engine, you need a dashboard for viewing the status of all messages.

Also, the solution should provide notifications via email and SMS to alert you of any errors and the possible causes.

Ensure that you can reach your vendor/solution provider by phone, email, SMS, or live chat to resolve any issues promptly. Remember that a patient’s life and well-being may be adversely affected if anything goes wrong with the interface.

Building or acquiring a new HL7 interface is a complex task. However, with the help of a reputable HL7 interoperability expert, you can affordably achieve your data exchange goals.

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