How Are Duplicate Medical Records Different from Overlays?

by | Published on Jul 23, 2021 | Data Entry Services

Efficient medical data entry is considered a vital asset for healthcare providers. Information or patient data should be properly managed so that the best treatment and care can be ensured. Hospitals and healthcare units deal with a huge amount of data, and even minor errors could harm the patient, cause financial loss, and also damage the reputation of the healthcare provider. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest challenge the US healthcare system faced in recent decades. Healthcare providers in the US have been facing a plethora of problems like – outrageous costs, lack of price transparency, laws hampering healthcare outcomes, lack of proper interoperability, medical record errors, preventable medical errors, and more – even before the pandemic. One of the more prominent problems the US healthcare system has been facing is medical record errors – caused by duplicate medical records and overlays – to be precise. Duplicate medical records and overlays lead to patient safety issues, patient misidentification, billing and coding errors, reduced healthcare outcomes, claim denials and revenue cycle management issues. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, duplicates have been leading to poor patient identification, hampering the response rate and patient outcomes.

Understanding Duplicate Medical Records and Overlays

With several technological advancements in the field of healthcare today, one major question that may arise is – how duplicate medical records are created. A number of factors such as errors made during registration, already existing duplicate records, the lack of a proper patient identification system, and pressure at the frontend among others contribute to this problem. Typically, duplicate medical records and overlays occur in the premises of busy healthcare providers – when working under tremendous pressure, registration employees are more likely to make mistakes. Ensuring accurate patient identification would help avoid further duplicates and overlays.

So, how are duplicate medical records different from overlays?

    • As the name suggests, duplicate records refer to more than one medical record assigned to a single patient. It means that there are redundant records within the electronic health record (EHR) system, causing patient data integrity issues. When a single patient has multiple health records within the EHR system of a given hospital, it creates duplicate records within the system. Moreover, each duplicate record will have different, incomplete, obsolete, or inconsistent information – leading to data corruption.

      Duplicate medical records are particularly common for hospitals and health systems that do not utilize modern patient identification platforms, and instead rely on the archaic patient identification method of asking the patients questions to determine their identities. This is an obsolete technique that can lead to more duplicates and medical identity theft as well. Generally, human errors are the most common reasons for duplicate records. Other reasons include – misspelling while entering patient data, not searching for the patient record appropriately, common names, and demographic characteristics. Healthcare providers need to make important decisions based on the information within medical records (lab test results, vitals, medications, allergies), and when they are using wrong or fragmented information, the quality of care takes a hit and on the whole affects patient safety as well.


  • Overlays are when the same medical record contains information about multiple patients. The main point of difference between overlays and duplicates is that overlays are created when one patient’s medical record or related information is entered into an entirely different patient’s medical record – merging the information together. This not only corrupts patient data, but also lead to patient safety issues, repeated lab test results, wrong treatment, and so on.

How Are Duplicate Medical Records and Overlays Created?

Errors in medical records are usually made during the patients’ and healthcare providers’ first point of contact – that’s registration. Generally, this is a busy area for any given hospital – as employees have short amount of time and a huge amount of work. In addition, having to deal with a huge number of medical records simultaneously, lack of an effective patient identifier and patients sharing the same information (for instance – name, date of birth etc) are more likely to result in duplicate records and overlays. Most of these issues occur as there are no concrete ways to identify patients accurately. In addition, common names, nicknames, name changes (after marriages or separations), entering incorrect data, and misspelling patient names and a whole lot of other factors will hinder the attempts to find accurate records.

Duplicate medical records and overlays can have significant consequences or impact in EHR systems both from the patient’s point of view as well as that of the healthcare provider. AHIMA says that 20 percent of the medical records in healthcare systems with multiple facilities are duplicates, and they can cost up to $40 million for any healthcare provider (2020 statistics). Besides, these can lead to wrong treatment, undesirable patient outcomes, and thus, lower ratings and loss of goodwill for healthcare providers. Other related consequences include – claim denials and poor revenue cycle optimization- impacting their bottom lines. Another important aspect to consider is patient safety. When a patient is treated with a duplicate or an entirely different medical record, there could be so many negative consequences – wrong medications, delays in treatment, repeated lab tests, and even death.

The issue of duplicate medical records is growing at an increasing pace with a huge amount of data being generated and more applications being introduced into the healthcare environment. Overlays and duplicate medical records not only endanger patients and negatively impact the healthcare provider’s reputation but also contributes to needless waste and inefficiencies while jeopardizing value-based reimbursements. Therefore, healthcare organizations require clarity and reliability of the medical records they maintain to avoid redundant or unnecessary tests and procedures, erroneous reporting and analytics, billing inaccuracies, administrative burdens, denied claims and lost revenue. By hiring professional data entry services, healthcare units can ensure accurate medical data entry and thereby improve workflow and provide better care. Such experienced providers can efficiently handle huge volumes of medical data while helping healthcare professionals to relax and devote their time to providing quality care to the patients.

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