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Health Level 7 (HL7) with Perl

In this article we take a deep look into HL7, the defacto standard in the health sector for exchanging clinical and patient information over heterogeneous systems, with the aid of Perl and the Net::HL7 CPAN module.

HealthIT is a rapidly evolving sector that everyday sees a massive amount of data accumulating. The pressing need for storing, retrieving and manipulating that data led to a computerization race which itself gave rise to a highly disparate and non standardized HealthIT landscape with no common grounds of communication.

But as times changed and requirements became more complex, it soon became evident that a common language for the exchange of information was necessary; a language that would enable this exchange not only inside a healthcare institution's internal IT systems, for example between labs and administration, but also between distinct Health institutions even across cultural and national barriers. (Consider epSOS as an example of a common infrastructure that facilitates the services of e-dispensation and patient summary on a pan-European level.)

Therefore, healthcare data standards emerged that, in relation to the Electronic Health Records, bundled the best industry practices whereby clinical and patient information could be shared and exchanged over heterogeneous systems in a standardized way. Specifically, they addressed the fact that for the massive amount of data accumulating in electronic format there was no satisfactory or standardized way of organizing, representing, and encoding so that it could be be handled and understood by the recipient systems. This had stark repercussions on resource spending, decision making, common reporting and analytics, but most of all it was affecting the patient's safety and the quality of the service offered.

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