HL7 Explained: Health Level 7 Standards, Messages and Integration in Healthcare

By Carl Mahon 5 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. HL7 encompasses several essential standards, including:

  • HL7 v2: This widely used standard defines the structure and content of messages exchanged between healthcare systems, facilitating interoperability and data exchange.
  • HL7 v3: Designed for more complex healthcare scenarios, HL7 v3 provides a framework for creating detailed clinical and administrative models to improve interoperability across different systems.
  • HL7 FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources): It is a modern and rapidly evolving standard that focuses on simplicity and web-based integration, enabling seamless exchange of healthcare data across diverse systems and platforms.
  • HL7 CDA (Clinical Document Architecture): It specifies the structure and semantics of clinical documents, allowing healthcare information to be exchanged in a standardized format that supports interoperability and meaningful use.
  • HL7 CCD (Continuity of Care Document): It is an HL7-compliant standard that provides a snapshot of a patient’s health information, facilitating the exchange of relevant data for continuing care and transitioning between healthcare settings.

These HL7 standards play a crucial role in achieving seamless interoperability and efficient exchange of health information in the digital healthcare ecosystem.

What Types of Labs Use HL7 Messages?

The use of HL7 in healthcare is widespread, 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 messages:

  • 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 the Healthcare Industry?

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.

Here are some ways HL7 is used in the healthcare industry:

  • Interoperability: HL7 enables interoperability by providing a common language and framework for different healthcare systems to communicate with each other. It ensures that data can be exchanged accurately and consistently across diverse systems, including electronic health record (EHR) systems, laboratory information systems, radiology systems, pharmacy systems, and more.
  • Patient Data Exchange: HL7 allows for the exchange of patient data between healthcare providers, hospitals, clinics, and other entities involved in patient care. This includes essential information such as patient demographics (name, age, gender, address), medical history, allergies, medications, and clinical observations.
  • Clinical Messaging: HL7 defines a messaging standard that enables the transmission of clinical information, such as laboratory test results, radiology reports, and other diagnostic findings. This helps healthcare providers to access and review patient information efficiently, supporting timely decision-making and providing better quality care.
  • Integration with Electronic Health Records (EHRs): HL7 plays a vital role in integrating various healthcare applications with EHR systems. It enables the seamless flow of data between different systems, ensuring that information from laboratory tests, procedures, and other sources is accurately captured and stored in the patient’s electronic health record.

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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