Health News Roundup

Algorithms used for medical decisions from cardiology to obstetrics are tainted by racial bias, and more in this week’s roundup

Racial bias skews algorithms widely used to guide patient care
Sharon Begley, STAT, June 17
Decision making tools that U.S. physicians use to guide patient care on everything from who receives heart surgery to who needs kidney care and who should try to give birth vaginally are racially biased, according to a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine. For example, an algorithm that transplant surgeons use says that kidneys from Black donors are more likely to fail than those from other races. But because Black patients are also more likely to receive an organ from a Black donor, this results in fewer kidneys being available for transplantation.

Amid the protests and pandemic, a renewed call for health equity reform
Jenna Carlesso, The Connecticut Mirror, June 15
The protests that have flared up nationwide since the death of George Floyd and the inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare the need to address structural racism in the public health system. Some proposals from Connecticut advocates include expansion of Medicaid, better collection of race and ethnicity data, Medicaid coverage for undocumented residents, and accountability measures to ensure equity proposals are being followed in state agencies.

To understand who’s dying of COVID-19, look to social factors like race more than preexisting diseases
Sharon Begley, STAT, June 15
While early studies of who was dying of COVID-19 identified risks such as obesity and having diabetes, there is a growing realization that those initial conclusions might have been misleading, obscuring a more significant explanation. As researchers pull back their lens from individuals to population-level risk factors, they’re finding that, in the U.S., race may be as important as age in gauging a person’s likelihood of dying from the disease.

‘Let’s just make it home.’ The unwritten rules Blacks learn to navigate racism in America  
Cara Anthony, Time, June 17 
In his work with Black teenagers, pastor and mental health caseworker Darnell Hill teaches an unofficial guide to what he calls “living while Black.” Though many Black families have their own sets of rules to navigate others’ racist assumptions, Hill says he hopes that following his “do’s and don’ts” will allow kids to survive as unscathed as possible to realize their life ambitions.