14 HL7 Integration Challenges Faced by the CTOs

A healthcare organization typically uses a myriad of healthcare software, and every patient’s data goes into these software systems. There’s data coming from practice management, EHR/EMR, LIS, CDSS, radiology, remote monitoring, telemedicine, wearables, etc. By 2025, the compound annual growth rate of data for healthcare will reach 36 percent.

Every one of these systems produces data, but the catch is to make them work together, so there’s seamless data exchange. This is one of the biggest challenges faced by the healthcare industry. HL7 integration plays a crucial role in overcoming this challenge.

HL7 or Health Level Seven International is a data integration standard that ensures seamless data exchange across healthcare systems. But, to leverage its maximum potential, there are certain HL7 challenges that CTOs must overcome.

14 Crucial HL7 Integration Challenges

1. System Upgrades and Maintenance

System upgrades and maintenance is a continuous process. It keeps the healthcare system running smoothly. The tech team is tasked with upgrading security protocols and systems as this takes the topmost priority. Another aspect that requires constant change is keeping up with the user needs.

Adding or deleting features and functionalities can affect the interface. This may have an impact on the HL7 interface too. So, to avoid this situation, CTOs can create a strategy that involves rigorous testing and checking compatibility with HL7 as soon as the upgrade is underway.

2. Poor HL7 Data Semantics

Healthcare data is getting complex, so the right interpretation of information and what exactly it means holds value. For instance, best to specify abbreviations wherever necessary as it eliminates confusion.

To preserve the quality of data and to avert dire consequences for the patients, ensure that HL7 data semantics are comprehensive, accurate, and interpreted correctly.

3. Shift to a New EHR Software

Shift to a new EHR software poses a challenge for not just the CTOs, but healthcare organizations as well. An EHR is internally connected to several systems, hence migrating data to a new EHR software is challenging. So, if an organization is thinking about shifting to a new EHR software, CTOs can kickstart the process by understanding which version of HL7 is being used. This allows the CTOs to seamlessly tackle HL7 integration challenges during the shift.

The foremost obstacle would be data backup and recovery process. The tech team can start backing the recent data first (diagnosis, allergies, and medications), the older data can take a backseat here. Further, ensure that the latest versions of HL7 are implemented in the new EHR.

4. Tackling System Downtime

System downtime can cost an organization loads of money, hence this is one of the key HL7 challenges faced by the CTOs. It can also affect seamless data transfers across the organization, thus delaying patient care and safety. Reasons for downtime could be:

  1. Hardware failure
  2. Cyber attacks or data breaches
  3. Human errors
  4. Incorrectly prepared architecture
  5. Network outages
  6. Overload of resources

So, what can be done to avert downtime? CTOs can invest in healthcare cloud technology such as AWS to ensure system compatibility and data migration. Another way to tackle this challenge is to implement CI/CD (Continuous Improvement and Continuous Delivery). With this approach, CTOs can automate the release of updates and the testing process, thereby improving uptime.

5. Deciding Cost Estimates

Managing cost and resources is considered as one of the significant challenges of HL7 integration. It is important that the CTOs deliver the best of the products with the given cost estimate. For a custom HL7 interface the expenses would be higher compared to other tools such as interface integrations and APIs.

Don’t miss out on the port expenses as it connects two systems. The average post fees would range between $10,000 to $30,000. Plus, include data transfer costs, SSL for secure transfers that may go around $50 to $70.

6. Security and Privacy Issues

The healthcare industry faces numerous cyber attacks, hence security and privacy are the topmost priorities for the CTOs. To prevent intruders from gaining access to HL7 messages, get robust security systems in place. Enforce HIPAA compliance regulations for systems integrated with HL7.

Use an additional encryption layer, establish data transfer via secure protocols. Train the staff on how to maintain security and privacy of healthcare systems. This can reduce the number of breaches caused due to human errors.

7. Alignment with Clinical Workflows

Today, an EHR software is linked with several systems such as patient portals, billing, and practice management. All of these departments use data residing in the EHR. So, to maintain a steady clinical workflow, an interface engine must be used to convert HL7 data into readable format such as XML or JSON.

Other way to maintain workflow is to use new standards such as FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources). This standard works well with web-based technology. CTOs can also conduct workflow analysis to tackle HL7 integration challenges.

8. Scalability and Performance

The amount of data in the healthcare industry is rising each day. Surplus data can leave a negative impact on scalability and performance of healthcare systems. So, CTOs can design an architecture that can store and process huge datasets. An on-premise deployment mode can struggle with this, but a cloud approach may just fulfil the requirements.

Flexibility offered by cloud helps to handle loads of data without compromising on the performance of the systems. Plus, a robust architecture can lead to fast data exchange, and ameliorate response times and throughput.

9. Interoperability Challenges

Modern healthcare requires interoperability of one system with another one, and also with mHealth apps and SaaS products. All of them support different data formats which causes difficulties in transfer. They need to be configured to work with HL7 integration. To handle this obstacle consider using RESTFUL APIs, patient-centric apps, and physician portals.

10. Handling Errors

To err is human. But sometime software too can make mistakes if the data is not structured properly. The best way to handle errors is to keep up with the latest edition of HL7. The higher the version, the better the error control.

HL7 integration contains ERR segment that is used to address errors during transfers and messages. This segment flags application error code, severity of an error, help desk contact, support for multiple error locations, and more.

11. System Compatibility and Version Choices

The Health Level Seven has two versions – 2.x and 3.x. and the most preferred version is the former one. One thing to note here is that 3.x is not compatible with 2.x. So, this poses a challenge if any of the systems use a different version.

To further complicate the problem, the 2.5.1 HL7 version was selected as the standard for making lab reports and certificate requirements. To solve this issue, use version 2.x for legacy systems. And while creating HL7 interfaces check which version is best suited for them.

12. Secure Data Transfers

Secure data transfers is another HL7 integration challenges faced by the CTOs. Security during data transfers prevents it from potential cyber attacks.

So, to ensure robust security, CTOs can leverage all or either of the following HL7 messages:

  1. SSH Tunnelling: This offers a secure connection between two servers or sites. SSH is available by default on OS X and Linux. Windows may have to use Voshell.
  2. Secure FTP: With FTP is is possible to incorporate secure transfer of HL7 messages across systems. SSH FTP provides secure transfer of datasets.
  3. VPN Tunnel: A VPN connects two remote sites over a private network, thus securing HL7 messages. The VPN tunnel protects data by using secure encryption.

13. Interface Development

Without an HL7 interface specification outlining requirements, CTOs will be stuck with a generic interface. The interface is likely to go buggy if the actual requirements of the healthcare organization aren’t met. This can result in troubleshooting after the product is launched.

The organization is likely to face clinical workflow issues because the interface isn’t effective. The clinicians are faced with lack of data. So, to avert all these issues, get an interface that matches with the user requirements.

14. Tackling Different Vendor Implementations

Every vendor may choose to incorporate a different version of the HL7 standard. The lack of standardization makes integration expensive and difficult. At every endpoint, developers need to craft and maintain a separate codebase.

If there’s a need to upgrade interfaces then every endpoint needs to be updated. So, it is more better to invest in interface engine that will manage the differences in incorporation and bolster productivity of the tech team.

The HL7 standard acts as a sustainable bridge between advancing IT and modern processes. Healthcare sector giants and startups must seize this opportunity to facilitate solid data-exporting environments. If you’re looking for HL7 integration, then you’ve arrived at the right place. Arkenea, a healthcare software development company has got you covered.