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Arnold School of Public Health

Chen Liang brings informatics expertise to Department of Health Services Policy and Management

August 23, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Assistant professor Chen Liang is using informatics to save lives. Though his focus on leveraging this branch of information science to improve public health, medicine and clinical research dates back 15 years, he has recently begun developing computer-assisted tools to improve knowledge extraction and data analysis from patient safety events.

“Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer,” says Liang, who notes that reporting and analyzing patient safety events has been a national priority since the Institute of Medicine released the report, To Err Is Human, in 1999. “However, there are theoretical and methodological gaps in the clinical implementation as well as the difficulties of learning from root causes of incidents.”

Liang works to fill these gaps, which include inefficiency in extracting safety-related information from the ever-increasing number of events, using health informatics. He is particularly committed to developing informatics methods and tools that lead to a better understanding of health data harnessed from clinical settings and public health domains, which he recently expanded to include mental health services and health consumers on the Web.

Originally from China, Liang can trace his interest in informatics to Soochow University where he studied information engineering as an undergraduate and then psychology as a master’s student.

“I was first intrigued by the underlying mechanism of information processing in both computer systems and the human brain,” Liang says. “Later, I found my knowledge and academic training particularly useful in the emergence of big health data and the renaissance of artificial intelligence in medicine.”

After participating in an international research collaboration with the University of Texas, Liang moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in Biomedical Informatics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. There, while working on multiple federally-funded projects, he received extensive training in clinical research informatics and data sciences and sharpened his understanding of the complexity of health data.  

“Uncertainty is inherent in health data whereas medicine and public health are dedicated to improving the certainty and accurateness of knowledge derived from such data,” Liang says. “Today, the proliferation of electronic health data introduces new vagueness, ambiguity and heterogeneousness, bringing challenges and incentives for research and clinical implementation.”

“Assessing patient safety and health care quality is critical for improving health outcomes of different populations, but the lack of relevant information in usable forms remains a significant barrier,” says HSPM chair Mahmud Khan. “Dr. Liang’s work adopts an innovative approach of analyzing medical incident reports by incorporating machine learning and natural language processing to address data quality concerns of incident reporting. This is an emerging research area in health policy and management field and it will have significant impact on quality and safety of health system in general. We are excited to have Chen Liang with us in the department and look forward to working with him for years to come.”

Following the completion of his doctoral degree, Liang spent two years as an assistant professor at Louisiana Tech University. He joined the Arnold School due to its reputation in the public health field and the fact that it is home to a number of nationally-sponsored research projects and internationally recognized scientists. He’s especially looking forward to the collaborative and mentorship opportunities that the School offers.

“Health informatics research is often built on close collaboration with researchers from cross-disciplinary fields, such as health sciences, computer science and social sciences, as well as with the medical schools and engineering school at the University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control,” Liang says. “I was impressed by the diverse and inclusive research environment at Arnold School of Public Health. I am also grateful for the potential opportunities to be mentored by senior faculty.”

In the classroom, Liang is excited to teach courses on health informatics foundations and computerized methods tailored for health sciences professionals. His background includes extensive experience teaching technology-intensive courses for health sciences students (e.g., public health, medical, nursing). 

“I feel honored to work with students, staff and peer faculty,” Liang says. “I’m looking forward to contributing to the health informatics curricula in the Department of Health Services Policy and Management and expanding my research on health informatics with a new focus in public health and health services.”


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