Electronic medical records (EMRs) can support medical research and discovery, but privacy risks limit the sharing of such data on a wide scale. Various approaches have been developed to mitigate risk, including record simulation via generative adversarial networks (GANs). While showing promise in certain application domains, GANs lack a principled approach for EMR data that induces subpar simulation. In this article, we improve EMR simulation through a novel pipeline that (1) enhances the learning model, (2) incorporates evaluation criteria for data utility that informs learning, and (3) refines the training process.
We propose a new electronic health record generator using a GAN with a Wasserstein divergence and layer normalization techniques. We designed 2 utility measures to characterize similarity in the structural properties of real and simulated EMRs in the original and latent space, respectively. We applied a filtering strategy to enhance GAN training for low-prevalence clinical concepts. We evaluated the new and existing GANs with utility and privacy measures (membership and disclosure attacks) using billing codes from over 1 million EMRs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The proposed model outperformed the state-of-the-art approaches with significant improvement in retaining the nature of real records, including prediction performance and structural properties, without sacrificing privacy. Additionally, the filtering strategy achieved higher utility when the EMR training dataset was small.
These findings illustrate that EMR simulation through GANs can be substantially improved through more appropriate training, modeling, and evaluation criteria.