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Fake People, Real Research

Some researchers are using synthetic patient data to test their theories, the Wall Street Journal reports.

For instance, it reports that researchers at Sheba Medical Center in Israel worked with MDClone to develop synthetic data — made by taking real data from electronic medical records and scrambling it — early on the COVID-19 pandemic to understand the virus. This, the Journal writes, enabled doctors there to better determine treatment approaches. Meanwhile in the US, researchers at Intermountain Healthcare have used synthetic data to create a preventative care program for kidney disease patients.

The Journal notes that researchers aren't relying solely on synthetic data, but are using those data sets to first test their hypotheses before turning to real patient data. Allan Tucker from Brunel University London who has used synthetic data tells it that the main advantage of synthetic data is the "large reduction in privacy risks." The Journal adds, though, that some privacy experts caution that anonymity cannot be assured.