The standard, released by Health Level Seven, is the first that specifies functional requirements for electronic health-records systems to win approval from the American National Standards Institute, a key standard-setting body.
Electronic health records are advocated by the federal government and many health advocacy groups as a way to make sure that doctors have more complete information when caring for patients. Besides cost, one large barrier to EHR use is that different EHR systems cannot work together to exchange information, a problem that could be greatly alleviated by industry-wide standards.
But health IT is plagued by competing standards, often developed by different sets of experts for different purposes. The problem is widely recognized. Earlier this month, HL7 and ASTM International, another standards organization, announced a merged standard for describing patients medical histories and demographics when discharged from a health institution. The move was heralded as an important advance in creating a nationwide health-information network.
The HL7 standard released Feb. 21 describes 1,000 conformance criteria across 130 functions, including medication history, problem lists, orders, clinical decision support, plus supports for privacy and security.
"This new standard is a superset of functions that enables a standardized description and common understanding of functions, which is necessary when youre working across care settings," said Linda Fischetti, EHR Technical Committee co-chair.
A federally supported industry collaborative that certifies electronic health-records systems praised HL7, saying the two organizations provided a good example of collaboration in the health IT field. "The HL7 standard for EHR systems has been extremely valuable to us, providing the starting framework for CCHITs development of certification criteria," said Mark Leavitt, head of CCHIT (Certification Commission for Health Information Technology).
The standard should also serve as the basis for additional functions of electronic health-records systems, such as the ability to serve as a legal record for business purposes. The standard is also designed to accommodate EHR systems aimed for special purposes, such as disaster preparedness, long-term care, behavioral health, children and clinical research.