The nursing profession needs computer-formated data that can be exchanged within and between agencies. The exchange of electronic data, both in the United States and in the international community, requires agreement on the format of the data elements to be exchanged. The Health Level Seven [HL7] standard is a proposed voluntary standard for healthcare applications that addresses the way information is exchanged electronically. This brief article will provide background information regarding the development and status of HL7 and its implications for nursing.
From the clinical perspective, nurses follow standards of care developed by professional organizations. These standards facilitate clear communication among nurses, consumers, and members of other disciplines. Similarly, the electronic transmission and exchange of clinical information must have a standard to ensure that messages arrive and are decoded correctly. Many standards for electronic data already exist; financial transactions such as banking are familiar examples.
The theme of the 1990 Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care [SCAMC], was Standards in Medical Informatics. Many pertinent papers and workshops were presented. However, references to electronic data standards are found primarily in conference proceedings and technical manuals. Thus, although activity is widespread, and events are rapidly moving in the healthcare industry, most of the information is not yet widely available. It seems timely, therefore, to provide background material to nurses in order for them to participate in the process.