AI & Data

Vector Databases and PrivateGPT for Handling Sensitive Medical Data

Why you should leverage LLM-based document search tools in the healthcare industry - and how to ensure data safety with vector databases & PrivateGPT.

October 2023
min read
Neeraj Sujan
Software Engineer at Motius
Specialiced in Data Pipelines and ML
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Large Language Models (LLMs) like GPT are all the rage right now. There are many promising use cases for LLM-based document search tools. But there are also some challenges, like reliability, access management, and data security. In this article, we explain how you can process data safely with vector databases and PrivateGPT.

If you handle very sensitive data, leveraging LLMs is a bit more complicated. But it can be done and it's worth it. Before explaining how vector databases and PrivateGPT work, let us check if it's worth the trouble. What are promising use cases for industries with extremely high security standards?

While there are many industries handling sensitive data (and all data should be handled with caution), the highly regulated healthcare sector is probably the trickiest of them all. However, we see some of the most impactful applications for LLMs in the context of healthcare and pharmaceutics. Thus, we’ll focus on this industry to illustrate the power of document search tools handling sensitive data.

In case some terms in this article are unclear to you - here is a quick glossary:

Large Language Models (LLMs): Large language models are advanced AI models capable of understanding and generating human-like text. For example, GPT is a LLM. They are often used for tasks like text generation, translation, and answering questions.

Vector Databases: Vector databases are structured repositories of domain-specific information stored in vector format, enabling efficient querying and retrieval of data.

PrivateGPT: PrivateGPT is a tool that allows organizations to utilize large language models while maintaining strict data privacy and control over the training process.

Fine-Tuning: Fine-tuning involves updating an LLM's weights and parameters using domain-specific data to optimize its performance for specific tasks.

Prompt Engineering: It is the process of constructing or generating responses by refining the queries or prompts. Prompt Engineering ensures that the generated text elicits precise and accurate responses from AI models, contributing to the overall quality of the output.

Healthcare Use Cases for LLM-based Document Q&A

With LLM-based document search tools, also known as document Q&A tools, you can intelligently retrieve information from internal documents. Basically, you prompt engineer your LLM to provide reliable source information. To make it more specific, here are some use cases for the medical and healthcare industry:

  1. Accelerate pharmaceutic regulatory processes: Collecting documents for drug approval consumes valuable time and resources. The amount of data is immense, collected in different institutions, and stored in inconsistent formats. Plus, you’ll need different papers for e.g. FDA than EMA approval. With a custom-made document search tool, you can gather the needed patient and research data in less than a minute. This enables your team to make informed decisions and assemble the required documents much faster. Also, real-time monitoring capabilities help you address potential issues promptly, ensuring quality and reducing costly errors.
  2. Better diagnostics and medication: To choose the best therapy, doctors rely on many different diagnostic methods. Unfortunately, the respective results are (almost always) stored in slightly different data formats. Currently, the only way to see the whole, big picture, is by printing out the results and comparing them manually. With an LLM that can read all these different file formats, physicians could get intelligent medication suggestions based on all patient data.
  3. Electronic Health Record (EHR) retrieval: Patients' electronic health records are often vast and complex. LLM-based document search systems can help healthcare providers find specific information within EHRs more efficiently. The system would process information such as past medical history, test results, or treatment plans and give recommendations in natural language. Just like you know it from ChatGPT.
  4. Healthcare Chatbots: Healthcare chatbots powered by Q&A systems can provide 24/7 patient support. This is especially relevant for answering common medical queries. But it can also lead to a quicker identification of life-threatening situations and automatically initiate a referral to an expert. In all other cases it can support with finding the right expert and offer appointment scheduling assistance.
  5. Accelerate pre-clinical research: In drug discovery and other pre-clinical research, medical scientists grapple with changing lab workflows, manual procedures, and vast amounts of unstructured data from various sources. Large Language Models can address these issues by enabling (semi) autonomous agents that convert natural language user intent into technical actions. By interfacing with various tools and databases, these agents can manage tasks like SQA queries, data analysis, visualization, and report generation.

The Modern LLM Stack

Now that we covered the why. It’s time to talk about how to make sure that the output of such a tool complies with regulatory and ethical standards. This is where vector databases and fine-tuning come into play. Both are strategies to enhance output quality and thus ensure the reliability and traceability of results.

Enter Vector Databases

Imagine consulting a doctor about a health issue of yours. The doctor wouldn't be able to provide an accurate diagnosis without understanding the context of your illness. They would ask questions, perform tests, and gather relevant information before offering a diagnosis. Much like the doctor's need for contextual information to provide accurate diagnoses, the integration of LLMs with vector databases enhances their ability to retrieve precise, industry-specific documents and information.

Now, envision LLMs with memory – equipped with the ability to draw from external sources of knowledge. Vector databases store pre-processed, domain-specific information that seamlessly integrates into LLM responses. They bridge the gap between the model's existing knowledge and industry-specific information.

Vector databases store data in a structured format that facilitates easy querying and retrieval. They can house various data types, including text, images, and structured data like tables or graphs. This versatility caters to the unique requirements of the healthcare sector. However, you'll find similar requirements when it comes to finance, legal, or other industries handling personal data.

So, how do vector databases compare with traditional databases in terms of performance and scalability, particularly in the context of healthcare applications? Vector databases offer significant advantages over traditional databases for healthcare applications, including faster retrieval times for complex queries and better scalability for handling large datasets, thanks to their efficient indexing and search capabilities.

Creating a Knowledge Base

Utilizing vector databases involves a series of steps:

  1. Data Collection and Curation: Relevant data is collected, curated, and pre-processed to ensure its quality and relevance.
  2. Transformation into Vectors: Data is transformed into vectors – mathematical representations that capture the semantic meaning of the information.
  3. Organization within the Database: Vectors are organized within the database, creating a rich source of contextual knowledge.

Enhancing LLMs with Vector Databases

When an LLM receives a query, it doesn't solely rely on its internal knowledge. Instead, it consults the vector database for relevant contextual information. This supplementary data enhances the model's responses, ensuring accuracy and specificity. In the medical industry, for example, if a healthcare professional queries the LLM about the latest treatment options for a specific condition, the model combines its internal knowledge with data from the vector database. This synergy ensures precise and up-to-date recommendations.

One key advantage of using vector databases is their ability to maintain data security and privacy. Instead of exposing sensitive information to the LLM, only necessary contextual data is fetched from the vector database. This approach mitigates the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access while harnessing the power of LLMs to generate valuable insights. By offering robust data security, seamless integration with existing systems, and compliance with medical standards (GMP, GLP, etc.), it ensures that your regulatory processes align with the highest industry standards.

Improve Output Quality

Besides ensuring security, you also want to improve output quality. You want to be really sure that your LLM isn't hallucinating, after all. Vector databases are one way to do this, but you can also do so-called fine-tuning. The choice of whether to use vector databases, fine-tuning, or a hybrid approach involving both requires a holistic understanding of the desired output. The specific goals of the project, and the available resources. Additionally, it's essential to consider factors such as the complexity of the task, the amount of labeled data available for training, and the time constraints in order to make an informed decision that maximizes the quality of the final results.

  • Fine-tuning involves updating an LLM's weights and parameters using domain-specific data. This approach enables the model to understand complex patterns and relationships, making it ideal for tasks like diagnosing medical conditions or translating intricate texts. However, it can be computationally expensive and may not be suitable for all use cases.
  • Vector databases offer a different avenue to enhance LLMs. They provide a structured repository of domain-specific information that can be seamlessly integrated into the model's responses. This approach is more cost-effective and efficient, particularly in scenarios where labeled data is scarce or expensive to obtain. Vector databases also prioritize data security, mitigating the risk of exposing sensitive information.

In the medical industry, where data privacy is paramount, there's a growing need to harness the capabilities of Large Language Models (LLMs) for building advanced Question-and-Answer (Q&A) systems without compromising sensitive data. Organizations must ensure that patient records and research findings remain strictly confidential while benefiting from the insights provided by LLMs. To address this challenge, PrivateGPT emerges as the solution of choice

PrivateGPT and Who Benefits from It?

As explained, vector databases and/or fine-tuning are one part of the puzzle. They ensure that your underlying model maintains security and privacy standards. To harness the capabilities of large language models (LLMs) for building advanced Q&A systems, you’ll also need PrivateGPT.

What is PrivateGPT?

PrivateGPT is a tool that allows businesses to utilize LLMs for various applications. It can generate tailored text, improve language translation, create original content, and provide informative answers. It stands out for its emphasis on data privacy and control over the training process.

Why Choose PrivateGPT in Healthcare?

Data Privacy: In the medical field, confidentiality is paramount. PrivateGPT enables organizations to train LLMs on their proprietary medical data, ensuring that patient records and research findings remain highly confidential.

Control: With PrivateGPT, organizations have complete control over the training process, allowing customization to focus on specific medical expertise. This control eliminates the need to rely on external cloud platforms, reducing costs and resource requirements.

PrivateGPT offers healthcare organizations a secure, controlled environment to harness the power of LLMs while safeguarding the confidentiality of sensitive medical data. In an industry where data privacy is non-negotiable, PrivateGPT empowers healthcare professionals to advance their Q&A systems, fostering innovation and data security simultaneously.

What specific security measures does PrivateGPT implement to ensure the confidentiality of sensitive medical data? PrivateGPT ensures the confidentiality of sensitive medical data through encryption, access controls, and by allowing data processing within a secure environment. It's designed to protect data both at rest and in transit, adhering to privacy regulations.

Alternatives to PrivateGPT:  

While PrivateGPT undeniably provides robust data protection, its implementation can pose resource challenges and practical limitations in certain contexts. Sometimes you don't have the resources to craft a custom LLM and the needed dataset for fine-tuning. In these situations, alternative approaches like data minimization and data access policies can be a wise alternative:

  1. Adopting data minimization practices, which involve processing only essential data for a given task while anonymizing or pseudonymizing sensitive information.
  2. Implementing robust data access and retention policies to safeguard against unauthorized access and data breaches, ensuring strict control over the LLM's interaction with sensitive medical data handling regulations.

We'd say PrivateGPT is the best way to ensure data security. But if you prefer to adopt an open-source model, a strategic combination of data anonymization and restricted data access is a pragmatic, privacy-conscious solution.

The Healthcare Industry Can & Should Use LLM-based Q&A

Using LLM-based Q&A tools bears huge potential for organizations handling sensitive data - and you don’t have to compromise your data privacy for it. Particularly for the healthcare industry, we see many use cases, that are worth the higher development efforts. The combination of vector databases and PrivateGPT enables an audit trail and traceability features that assist in maintaining meticulous records, vital for GMP compliance or other crucial regulatory standards. Creating an LLM-based document search tool that leverages these techniques, will empower your organization to get more accurate, efficient, and secure information. With improved data integrity, and the ability to scale knowledge sharing across your organization, it not only accelerates processes but also strengthens your company's competitive edge.

Get your individual use case assessment, tailormade to your business. We’ll send you the most promising use cases and recommendations for the next steps.

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