It is possible to send a PDF file inside of an HL7 message. However, it is not a simple “encode and send” process as there are many moving pieces that allow a document file to be moved across an HL7 interface. The key question is not what the HL7 standard says about document encoding or even what the interface engine can do with the document. Rather, the focus should be on how the PDF file will be delivered to and from the source and destination application and how the target application will display the document.
The options to move a PDF document include sharing the PDF via a file system (network shared drive), sending the file via HL7 as an ED (encapsulated data) data type, or including a URL to the PDF file via an RP (reference pointer) datatype. The complexity of each solution varies wildly based on the vendors involved.
To begin, start with the answer to this question: How will the source application provide the PDF file and how will the destination application(s) receive the data?
The second question to answer: Once the document is received by the target application, how will that receiving application file it correctly into the patient chart? For example, if you send two PDF files (one pathology report and one ED summary), how will the receiving application know onto which tab of the patient chart the document should flow? Specifically, as a user, I’d hope the path report would appear somewhere on the “lab results” tab. I’d also hope the date of the report would appear next to the paper clip (or whatever) icon to tell me a “scanned report” was available. These questions about how and where the document will appear are much more challenging than, “How do I encode a PDF file in HL7?”
The actual encoding of the document is often done via either an ED or RP datatype inside of an ORU message. Review these prior blog postings for details:
- How Do I Send a Binary File Inside of an HL7 Message?
- Sending Images or Formatted Documents via HL7 Messaging
- HL7 OBX Segment