Developing efficient, error-free HL7 interfaces is not an easy task. From analyzing workflows to developing use cases, creating data structures, and developing message specifications, HL7 interface design requires a lot of wit and grit.
HL7 design and implementation may take between 3 to 18 months, depending on the type of interface you are creating. However, you can improve the speed, accuracy, and effectiveness of your HL7 interface design and development by applying the following tips.
1. Devise a Naming System for Easy Interface Tracking
Don’t overlook the importance of a concise and descriptive name for your interface. The more structured your naming system is, the quicker you will identify your interfaces under pressure.
If you manage less than 20 interfaces, you may not appreciate the need for a naming system. But if you manage interfaces from EHR to LIS/RIS, to billing, to HIEs, and other applications and systems within and outside your organization, you need a good system for tracking your interfaces.
You may decide to identify your interfaces by source and destination or by the function they perform.
Apart from interface naming, you also need to have a system for tracking changes in source and destination systems. Due to acquisitions, or upgrades, product names and system versions will change.
2. Avoid Clutter: Focus on the Message Types You Need
Message types are synonymous with trigger events. These events include lab test requests, lab results transfers, admission of a patient, a billing request, the payment received, and so on. You are free to choose your method of implementing your events.
Ideally, you should implement events that match your hospital’s process workflows. While you may find hundreds of trigger events and message types in the HL7 reference, you should only program those needed by your interface. Select them, list them out in your development tool, and focus on those events.
3. Document Your Data Structure Specs to Minimize Errors
After choosing your message types, you should list fields and data types for each segment in each message type. Then add the attributes for each component and field. Some of the attributes you need to specify include:
- The data type for each field
- Length of each field
- Tables linked with each field
In addition to data types, you may need to specify custom or z-segments if your organization or software vendor makes use of them.
4. Use Real-World Data and Lab Codes to Avoid Confusion
Gather the real-world data that you will implement in your interfaces. Also, add current lab codes used by your target laboratories, not the codes or data in the HL7 standard version you are using.
Without real-world data, you may end up spending many hours wondering what is wrong with your non-functional interface. Remember that lab codes will change over time. So, you need to track codes used, where they are used, and have a well-kept code library for quick reference.
5. Save Hours of Work by Using Suitable Tools for Profile Building
You can reduce your challenges and frustrations with HL7 interface design and development by putting all the required information together upfront. Don’t wait till you start struggling with LOINC codes, for instance, while troubleshooting your EHR-lab interface.
Use the right tools to compile, document, and validate all your interface requirements. For a small number of interfaces, a well-designed spreadsheet will do. But for hundreds of interfaces, you will need specialized tools, like the Messaging Workbench from HL7 International, to help you put some of these design specifications together.