Synthetic data in healthcare and pharmaceuticals
5 min readJun 1, 2023

The challenges associated with healthcare data

Across the healthcare industry, there are numerous challenges regarding the acquisition, management, and utilization of healthcare data. Privacy and security concerns arise due to the presence of sensitive personal information, necessitating robust measures to prevent data breaches and unauthorized access. Laws such as HIPAA in the U.S., the UK Data Protection Act, and the Federal Data Protection Act in Germany are in place to help protect healthcare patient data misuse. In addition, fragmentation and interoperability issues hinder seamless data exchange and integration across different systems and healthcare providers. Ensuring data accuracy and quality is another challenge, as it requires efforts to address human error, inconsistent documentation practices, and data entry variability.

Furthermore, the issues of bias and representation, or lack thereof, in healthcare data can impact the validity of findings and models. A recent McKinsey study found that gaps remain in women’s health data across the entire data value chain, which creates blind spots that impact research, investment decisions, and health outcomes globally for women. These disparities particularly impact vulnerable subsets of women and hinder disease-state understanding and asset discovery in areas with significant unmet needs. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving technological advancements, policy frameworks, data governance strategies, and stakeholder collaboration. Synthetic data has emerged as a key enabler of data within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. In the remainder of this article we will provide a discussion regarding the current challenges associated with healthcare data, and explore the applicability and potential utility of synthetic data in overcoming these challenges.

Data bias

Data bias refers to the systematic and disproportionate representation of certain groups or characteristics within a dataset, which can lead to inaccurate or skewed insights and predictions. In healthcare data, bias can occur due to various factors, such as disparities in healthcare access, or variations in data collection practices. Addressing data bias is crucial to ensuring fair and equitable healthcare outcomes and avoiding perpetuating existing inequalities.

Data access

Data access is a critical challenge in healthcare due to the sensitivity of patient information, and strict privacy regulations. Healthcare data is often stored in various systems and controlled by different entities including healthcare providers, research institutions and government agencies. Gaining access to comprehensive and diverse healthcare data for research, analysis and model training purposes can be complex and time-consuming. Limited data access can hinder the development of robust and generalizable models, impeding healthcare research and innovation to improve healthcare on an international scale.

Exploring the possibilities of using synthetic data in healthcare and pharmaceuticals

The possibilities of the use of synthetic data in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are vast and promising. There have been discussions around the areas where data science is making a big difference in the healthcare industry, including:

  • Diagnostics
  • Disease management
  • Wearables and early detection of a disorder or a concerning symptom
  • Drug research and discovery
  • Clinical decision making
  • Staffing
  • Hospital occupancy
  • Healthcare costs
  • End-of-life care

Data generation has emerged as a powerful resource for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to advance medical research, breakthroughs, and patient care. We will explore a few key examples of the operational possibilities that can be unlocked within healthcare through the use of synthetic data.

Increased access to privacy-compliant data

Data access has been a persistent challenge in healthcare and pharma, primarily due to privacy concerns and strict regulations. Synthetic data presents a breakthrough solution by generating representative datasets that capture the statistical properties and patterns of real-world data. This synthetic data can be used to train machine learning models, for clinical research, and drive research without compromising patient privacy or breaching regulatory requirements. With synthetic data, researchers and practitioners can overcome the limitations of data scarcity and gain access to a broader and more diverse range of data for analysis and decision-making.

Improving the quality of patient care

Machine learning models trained on synthetic data can potentially revolutionize the quality of care provided to patients. By leveraging these models, healthcare professionals can predict how specific cohorts of patients might respond to treatments and interventions, enhancing personalized medicine. With the ability to assess the likelihood of positive outcomes, medical practitioners can make more informed decisions, tailor treatment plans, and improve patient outcomes. Synthetic data empowers precision medicine by enabling the development of accurate and reliable predictive models.

Reducing costs

The use of synthetic data also offers substantial cost-saving opportunities in healthcare and pharma. Firstly, privacy-preserving synthetic data mitigates the risk of data breaches and associated fines, which can be substantial. By utilizing synthetic data for analysis and model training, organizations can maintain data privacy while still extracting valuable insights. Secondly, the improved predictive accuracy of machine learning models, driven by synthetic data, enables healthcare providers to optimize resource allocation, streamline operations and minimize unnecessary interventions. These cost savings contribute to the overall efficiency and sustainability of healthcare systems.

Accessing new partnership and collaboration opportunities

Synthetic data introduces a modern approach to sharing controlled data sets and fostering partnerships in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. Organizations can collaborate with third-party companies with common research interests or projects, sharing synthetic data to conduct joint studies. This collaborative environment promotes innovation and knowledge sharing while safeguarding sensitive patient information. By unlocking limited access and controlled data sets healthcare data can be protected, fostering groundbreaking partnerships that accelerate progress and drive transformative breakthroughs.

Rebalancing data to more accurately train ML models to detect rare diseases

Detecting and diagnosing rare diseases is a challenging task due to the limited availability of data and the inherent complexity of these conditions. However, recent advancements in artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning (ML), offer promising opportunities for improving rare disease detection.

Rare diseases are characterized by a low prevalence in the population, which often results in imbalanced datasets where the number of positive instances (patients with rare diseases) is significantly smaller than the number of negative instances (healthy individuals or patients with other common diseases).

Imbalanced datasets pose challenges for ML models, as they tend to be biased towards the majority class and can lead to poor predictive performance. This can be particularly problematic in the case of rare diseases, where early and accurate detection is crucial for timely intervention and improved patient outcomes.

Synthetic data offers a solution to this problem. Using synthetic data generation to upsample the number of positive (i.e. minority) instances in the dataset, synthetic data helps balance the class distribution, allowing ML models to learn effectively from both classes.


The challenges associated with healthcare data are multi-faceted and require comprehensive solutions. Addressing privacy and security concerns, fragmentation and interoperability issues, and empowering the use of accurate and quality data are needed to optimize the use of healthcare data.

Mitigating data bias and improving data access are crucial for equitable healthcare outcomes and advancing research. Synthetic data has become a valuable asset in other industries such as financial services, and holds equally vast potential in healthcare and pharmaceuticals. As we have demonstrated in this article, synthetic data can enable accessibility to privacy-compliant data. Access to quality data can help to enhance the quality of patient care through machine learning (ML) modeling, decreases expenses, and fosters opportunities for collaboration and partnerships.

Originally published at on June 1, 2023.



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