Identifying and characterizing highly similar notes in big clinical note datasets

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Background: Big clinical note datasets found in electronic health records (EHR) present substantial opportunities to train accurate statistical models that identify patterns in patient diagnosis and outcomes. However, near-to-exact duplication in note texts is a common issue in many clinical note datasets. We aimed to use a scalable algorithm to de-duplicate notes and further characterize the sources of duplication. Methods: We use an approximation algorithm to minimize pairwise comparisons consisting of three phases: (1) Minhashing with Locality Sensitive Hashing; (2) a clustering method using tree-structured disjoint sets; and (3) classification of near-duplicates (exact copies, common machine output notes, or similar notes) via pairwise comparison of notes in each cluster. We use the Jaccard Similarity (JS) to measure similarity between two documents. We analyzed two big clinical note datasets: our institutional dataset and MIMIC-III. Results: There were 1,528,940 notes analyzed from our institution. The de-duplication algorithm completed in 36.3 h. When the JS threshold was set at 0.7, the total number of clusters was 82,371 (total notes = 304,418). Among all JS thresholds, no clusters contained pairs of notes that were incorrectly clustered. When the JS threshold was set at 0.9 or 1.0, the de-duplication algorithm captured 100% of all random pairs with their JS at least as high as the set thresholds from the validation set. Similar performance was noted when analyzing the MIMIC-III dataset. Conclusions: We showed that among the EHR from our institution and from the publicly-available MIMIC-III dataset, there were a significant number of near-to-exact duplicated notes.




Gabriel, R. A., Kuo, T. T., McAuley, J., & Hsu, C. N. (2018). Identifying and characterizing highly similar notes in big clinical note datasets. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 82, 63–69.

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