Synthetic data holds tremendous value in health research and health care applications with one of the benefits including enabling decision making without compromising patient privacy. Synthetic data can also accelerate software development, increase access to important patient data and improve research that benefits Veterans.

Data available to researchers and the public has increased in recent years. It has been used to discover meaningful insights that address many challenges, including Veteran health. However, there are often challenges of a lack of access to real data sets due to privacy concerns and legal restrictions.

Resolving these challenges is critical for engaging the larger research community to tackle important problems and challenges to which VA is committed. While there are some risks, synthetic data is being considered to fill this gap while balancing guarantee of privacy to protect Veterans.

VA has a platform where synthetic data can be generated. Still, there are currently no policies in place regarding the use of that data. VA has collaborated with the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) to develop policies. The collaboration has resulted in a white paper that describes how to create and use synthetic data.

What is synthetic data and why is it important?

Synthetic data is generated from computer simulations or algorithms modeled from published studies that mirror typical patient-care pathways based on statistical data. This provides an alternative to real-world data that would otherwise need to be taken from patients’ electronic health records.

An example of synthetic data already being used in VA is the VA Suicide Prevention Grand Challenge. The challenge aims to reduce Veteran suicide by 10%. The Grand Challenge leverages internal and external collaborators to rapidly source prevention innovations, including the use of synthetic data.

Kshemendra Paul is VA’s chief data officer. She spoke on the value and importance of synthetic data during ACT-IAC’s Health Community of Interest in February. It was there that the white paper was presented.

“We have so much data at our disposal about health care and benefits and serving Veterans,” Paul said. “If we can rip the cultural and structural kryptonite from our chest and integrate that data and manage it, we can better serve Veterans and frankly position VA leadership broadly to help lead American health care and wellness.”

Learn more about synthetic data

If you’re interested in learning more about synthetic data and considerations for its usage in health care, ACT-IAC is hosting a Synthetic Data Workshop on May 4 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. ET. Included in the keynote speaker lineup is Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VHA Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Discovery, Education and Affiliate Networks (DEAN).

Dr. Amanda Purnell is the director of Data and Analytics Innovation for VHA Innovation Ecosystem and will host a session on the Role of Academia and Industry for Advancing the Governed Use of Synthetic Data. You can learn more and register for the event here.

To learn more about VHA Innovation Ecosystem, visit our website.

By Kalyn Essex is a communications officer at the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. She is an Air Force Veteran who served for 12 years, including one Operation Enduring Freedom tour.

Share this story

Published on May. 1, 2022

Estimated reading time is 2.5 min.

Views to date: 285

More Stories

  • Houston VA swore in new honorary police chief 10-year-old DJ Daniel who is battling terminal spinal and brain cancer. “Welcome aboard, Chief.”

  • Navy Veteran Jesse Allison Linam was a chief fire controlman during WWII in the South Pacific from 1940 to 1946. He receives care at the new Texarkana CBOC.

  • New genetic research discoveries may one day help doctors better screen Veterans at risk of suicide and prevent it in the first place.