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What is Health Level Seven (HL7)?

Transferring Healthcare Data

What is HL7?

HL7, short for Health Level Seven, is a set of international Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards used to provide guidance with the transfer and sharing of clinical and administrative data between software applications used by various healthcare providers. These standards focus on the Application Layer, or “layer 7” in the Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI model).

The HL7 standards were created by Health Level Seven International, a not-for-profit organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The standards act as a bridge between modern healthcare services and complex information technology, helping healthcare organizations with the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information.

HL7 is supported by more than 1,600 members from over 50 countries, including 500+ corporate members who represent healthcare providers, government stakeholders, payers, pharmaceutical companies, vendors/suppliers, and consulting firms.

Know the Terms: GoAnywhere Glossary

The History Behind HL7

It’s no secret that in the world of healthcare there are many different types of data that must be shuffled around on a constant basis. From Electronic Health Records (EHR), to Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI), to Radiology Information Systems (RIS), and Hospital Information Systems (HIS), these networks often don’t naturally communicate with one another seamlessly.

Rather, in many cases, these systems each speak their own individual language – i.e., a recipe for disaster and miscommunication without the proper tools or an integrated electronic system.

In 1987, in an attempt to solve this problem, a community of clinical interface specialists in the healthcare industry and information scientists/software vendors collaborated together to create the HL7 standards for the management, exchange, and integration of electronic health information.

Related Reading: Why Healthcare Needs MFT to Help Secure EHR File Transfers

HL7 Standards

HL7 standards don’t regulate how to build healthcare systems or applications, but rather provide a guide or rules for how to structure data to allow for a seamless flow of information between systems.

HL7’s message standards can be organized into three main HL7 Standard Versions: HL7 Version 2 (V2), Version 3 (V3), and XML-based Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR):


This messaging standard allows for the exchange of clinical data between systems. It is designed to support a central patient care system, as well as a more distributed environment where data resides in departmental systems.

The HL7 V2 standard is arguably the most widely implemented healthcare standard in the world, with 95 percent of United States’ healthcare organizations using it and more than 35 counties with V2 implementations. The messaging standard is also supported by every major medical information systems vendor in the US.

It allows for the interoperability between EHR systems, electronic Patient Administration Systems (PAS), Electronic Practice Management (EPM) systems, Laboratory Information Systems (LIS), pharmacy, billing, and more.


This version is a suite of specifications based on HL7’s Reference Information Model (RIM). It provides a single source that allows implementers of V3 specifications to work with the full set of messages, data types, and terminologies needed to build a complete implementation.


FHIR is a next generation standard that builds on the best features of V2 and V3, while leveraging the latest web standards and applying a tight focus on implementability. FHIR is suitable for use in a wide variety of contexts – mobile phone apps, cloud communications, EHR-based data sharing, server communication in large institutional healthcare providers, and much more.

FHIR is also an easier option to implement because of its use of a modern web-based suite of API technology, including an HTTP-based RESTful protocol and a choice of JSON, XML, or RDF for data representation.

Related Reading: Introduction to JSON and RESTful Web Services

Why Does Healthcare Need HL7?

Interoperability is crucial in healthcare to maximize the value from EHRs and data sharing. However, since most healthcare providers use such a wide range of applications, a smooth flow of communication can be a hard task.

HL7 provides the necessary guidelines to help software vendors and healthcare providers store and share relevant data effectively, ensuring that data can be integrated cohesively across systems. As a result, data is more readily available to healthcare providers and they can make better clinical decisions more efficiently.

Related Reading: IT Pros in Healthcare: How to Choose a Secure File Transfer Solution

Improve Your ePHI with MFT

The healthcare industry is under increasing pressure to ensure that the wide variety of ePHI is not only easily accessible and transferrable, but also private and secure.

Download our guide to see how Managed File Transfer (MFT) solutions can provide you with the security, control, and seamless interface needed to address the electronic transfer of healthcare data.

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