HL7 Explained: Why it’s Essential for Building Your Digital Lab

By Carl Mahon 4 min read 02 Mar 2023

The healthcare industry has recently seen a significant shift toward electronic patient records. One key protocol to facilitate this shift is HL7, which stands for Health Level 7, created by a non-profit organization called Health Level Seven International

The set of standards simplifies how electronic data is shared between different digital healthcare platforms and makes it easier and more efficient for healthcare providers to share patient data.

What is HL7?

HL7 sets international standards for exchanging, integrating, sharing, and retrieving electronic health information. 

Data formatted using the HL7 standard capture patient data in a unified and easily transmissible format. This digital message can be quickly sent between different software programs, enabling communication between platforms in a friendly, error-free, autonomous fashion. 

What Types of Labs Use HL7?

HL7 use is widespread in healthcare, and any lab that exchanges patient information will need to send and receive HL7 messages using digital platforms.

Here are several types of labs that use HL7:

  • Clinical testing labs: Clinical labs test biospecimens collected from patients to diagnose or monitor medical conditions or the effectiveness of treatments. In this context, HL7 communicates test results and patient information between a clinical lab and other healthcare systems.
  • Pathology labs: Similar to clinical testing labs, pathology labs perform tests on tissues or other biospecimens to diagnose disease. HL7 helps exchange test results with other healthcare systems.
  • Blood banks: Information about blood donors, blood collection, and blood testing is exchanged using HL7 to communicate the results of blood tests or other patient information to ordering systems.

HL7 may also be used to exchange data with research (and many other types of) labs performing studies on patients.  

How is HL7 Used in Laboratory Environments?

HL7 provides a standardized and interoperable way for labs to exchange information with other healthcare systems, improving the accuracy, efficiency, and quality of patient care.

As described above, this information includes test results but can also include patient demographic information (e.g., date of birth, medical history, etc.), reference ranges for laboratory tests, or quality control data.

How the eLabNext Platform Receives HL7 Messages

eLabNext, a digital lab platform used by a wide array of laboratories that allows tracking of sample information and test results, can receive HL7 data messages within a user’s digital lab space and translate this into a sample record for processing. 

This capability allows your lab to seamlessly receive physician testing orders, complete with a unique barcode identifier. The automated process reduces data loss and errors as the lab processes samples. 

Any laboratory personnel can use eLabNext to track sample processing and continuously update it with testing results. Using this intuitive digital lab platform, you can easily associate your results with specific patients. The lab can send this back to the ordering system as another HL7 message when the results are complete. Full traceability enables a comprehensive audit trail.

We have established this automated loop with Point & Click Solutions and Enterprise Health’s electronic health record (EHR) systems to track and manage patient COVID-19 testing. This integration tracked a high volume of daily patient samples while managing test results and routing them back to these EHR systems. 

eLabNext also used similar capabilities to support Boston University’s in-house COVID-19 testing workflow, processing up to 9,000 samples daily.

The Details for IT Folks…

We use a REST API POST message to enable connections between platforms. The message header contains the mapping instructions for translating the HL7 fields into a sample. This allows for a very nuanced setup precisely tailored to each lab.  

Here’s what an example header looks like:


    “sampleTypeID”: 12485,

    “storageLayerID”: 0, /* Optional */

    “position”: 0, /* Optional */

    “name”: {

        “segment”: “MSH”,

        “field”: 10


    “description”: { /* Optional */

        “segment”: “MSH”,

        “field”: 9,

        “component”: 3


    “altBarcode”: { /* Optional: Alternative barcode information. */

        “segment”: “OBR”,

        “field”: 31


    “sampleTypeMetaIDMapping”: [ /* Optional: Array of mappings for the sampleTypeMetaID to the respective segment in the HL7 message */


            “sampleTypeMetaID”: 85318,

            “segment”: “OBX”,

            “field”: 5



            “sampleTypeMetaID”: 85317,

            “segment”: “ORC”,

            “field”: 2




And if You’re Not Technically Inclined, No Worries

The above is JavaScript code that represents a configuration for a sample type in HL7 messaging. But if you’re not an IT professional, all you need to know is:

  • HL7 simplifies the sharing of patient data between different digital platforms, making it more efficient and error-free for the life science industry. 
  • HL7 is widely used in diagnostic testing labs and donor banks to exchange patient information and/or test results. 
  • The eLabNext platform receives HL7 messages, allowing laboratories to process samples automatically with unique barcode identifiers. 

Overall, HL7 is crucial for digital laboratory environments.

If you’re interested in learning more about eLabNext’s platform and HL7 messaging, schedule a personal demo to see how it works.

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