The Health Level Seven () organization is an ANSI accredited Standards Developing Organization. Volunteers from around the world gather in quarterly meetings called HL7 Working Groups. During these HL7 Working Group meetings, volunteers work to refine, gain consensus, and produce documentation that describes how clinical information will be exchanged between disparate healthcare applications.
Practically speaking, reference to the HL7 standard typically implies the HL7 V2 standard which has been widely used in healthcare since the early 1990’s. HL7 has other standards, such as HL7 V3 and . An HL7 standard is the standard to which healthcare application vendors adhere when developing application interfaces to exchange patient data. An HL7 standard defines a method of moving clinical data between independent medical applications, often in near real time.
As Chapter 1 of the HL7 Version 2.3 states, “HL7 provides a common framework for implementing interfaces between disparate vendors”. The HL7 standard is intentionally flexible to accommodate data model differences between applications, such as the number of patient identifiers a system can store, and workflow differences between facilities/departments, such as whether an order can be placed without an encounter number.
HL7 V2 is the acknowledged healthcare industry standard and the best protocol available to date for exchanging clinical data among disparate healthcare systems. Although the emerging HL7 standard might change this in the future.