Jan 13

UNCG Bryan School researcher: Can blockchain revolutionize healthcare?

There is plenty of data involved with healthcare. For example, when a patient changes providers, that’s a tangible example of someone needing access to healthcare data. Across the industry, there’s no shortage of these transactions, from providers to various companies and so on.

For Dr. Xueping Liang, the issue is controlling that access — and she’d like to know whether blockchain can help.

“We are trying to find solutions and promote research progress for data security in the healthcare industry. We are thinking about blockchain technology because it’s decentralized, transparent, and tamper-resistant,” said Liang, Assistant Professor at the UNC Greensboro Bryan School of Business and Economics’ Department of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management. “Everybody can witness the transactions on the blockchain and if the patient has information for a certain healthcare provider, if they are using the blockchain platform this health record can be maintained and protected by the blockchain ledger.”

For her research, Liang is collaborating with Dr. Juan Zhao and Dr. You Chen at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Data is permanently recorded on the blockchain, which is tamper-resistant. That is one advantage of blockchain adoption,” said Liang. “There are security issues such as controlling the access to the legitimate medical devices at clinics and hospitals, and an interesting topic is the use of blockchain to monitor communications among these devices to figure out and detect malicious devices in this setting. So it’s very interesting and critical for the protection of patient data. It’s almost real-time, the dynamic execution of smart contracts.”

These types of advancements could prove to be particularly beneficial in a pandemic, she says.

“Data is always necessary but it’s also important we pay attention to the quality of the data,” said Liang. “For example, with COVID-19, if we are collecting cases, there are always errors or some data that is not accurate. If a patient confirms positive in one state and then they travel to another state, that would be a duplicate case, so blockchain has the potential to help ensure the record is identified and there’s no duplication.”

Liang, who has a PhD in Cyber Security, began her research in healthcare in 2017. 

“I started because I think healthcare is a very typical scenario of cybersecurity and is related to people’s everyday lives. And they have sensitive information related to healthcare and medicine, so I think there are a lot of unsolved cyber security issues there,” she said.

Liang wonders how machine learning could help in drug trials or even with personalized drug recommendations for patients. She hopes to continue researching in this area, diving deeper into the challenges and real-world integration of blockchain, along with other innovative solutions, whether it’s machine learning or artificial intelligence in healthcare, to better protect people’s data.