Background: Privacy restrictions limit access to protected patient-derived health information for research purposes. Consequently, data anonymization is required to allow researchers data access for initial analysis before granting institutional review board approval. A system installed and activated at our institution enables synthetic data generation that mimics data from real electronic medical records, wherein only fictitious patients are listed. Objective: This paper aimed to validate the results obtained when analyzing synthetic structured data for medical research. A comprehensive validation process concerning meaningful clinical questions and various types of data was conducted to assess the accuracy and precision of statistical estimates derived from synthetic patient data. Methods: A cross-hospital project was conducted to validate results obtained from synthetic data produced for five contemporary studies on various topics. For each study, results derived from synthetic data were compared with those based on real data. In addition, repeatedly generated synthetic datasets were used to estimate the bias and stability of results obtained from synthetic data. Results: This study demonstrated that results derived from synthetic data were predictive of results from real data. When the number of patients was large relative to the number of variables used, highly accurate and strongly consistent results were observed between synthetic and real data. For studies based on smaller populations that accounted for confounders and modifiers by multivariate models, predictions were of moderate accuracy, yet clear trends were correctly observed. Conclusions: The use of synthetic structured data provides a close estimate to real data results and is thus a powerful tool in shaping research hypotheses and accessing estimated analyses, without risking patient privacy. Synthetic data enable broad access to data (eg, for out-of-organization researchers), and rapid, safe, and repeatable analysis of data in hospitals or other health organizations where patient privacy is a primary value.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© Anat Reiner Benaim, Ronit Almog, Yuri Gorelik, Irit Hochberg, Laila Nassar, Tanya Mashiach, Mogher Khamaisi, Yael Lurie, Zaher S Azzam, Johad Khoury, Daniel Kurnik, Rafael Beyar. Originally published in JMIR Medical Informatics (http://medinform.jmir.org), 20.02.2020. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Medical Informatics, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://medinform.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.
- Big data analysis
- Electronic medical records
- Synthetic data
- Validation study
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Informatics
- Health Information Management