Synthetic Observational Health Data with GANs: from slow adoption to a boom in medical research and ultimately digital twins?
After being collected for patient care, Observational Health Data (OHD) can further benefit patient well-being by sustaining the development of health informatics and medical research. Vast potential is unexploited because of the fiercely private nature of patient-related data and regulations to protect it.
Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) have recently emerged as a groundbreaking way to learn generative models that produce realistic synthetic data. They have revolutionized practices in multiple domains such as self-driving cars, fraud detection, digital twin simulations in industrial sectors, and medical imaging.
The digital twin concept could readily apply to modelling and quantifying disease progression. In addition, GANs posses many capabilities relevant to common problems in healthcare: lack of data, class imbalance, rare diseases, and preserving privacy. Unlocking open access to privacy-preserving OHD could be transformative for scientific research. In the midst of COVID-19, the healthcare system is facing unprecedented challenges, many of which of are data related for the reasons stated above.
Considering these facts, publications concerning GAN applied to OHD seemed to be severely lacking. To uncover the reasons for this slow adoption, we broadly reviewed the published literature on the subject. Our findings show that the properties of OHD were initially challenging for the existing GAN algorithms (unlike medical imaging, for which state-of-the-art model were directly transferable) and the evaluation synthetic data lacked clear metrics.
We find more publications on the subject than expected, starting slowly in 2017, and since then at an increasing rate. The difficulties of OHD remain, and we discuss issues relating to evaluation, consistency, benchmarking, data modelling, and reproducibility.