Health News Roundup

Childbirth deadlier in U.S. than other countries, and more in this week’s roundup

Childbirth deadlier for Americans, especially Black women, study finds
Sabrina Malhi, The Washington Post, June 4
Childbirth is deadlier in the United States than in any other high-income nation, according to a new report. More than 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are preventable. However, factors such as a shortage of maternity care providers and limited access to after-birth home visits have increased the risk of maternal mortality. Researchers said that is especially true for Black people. In 2022, about 22 maternal deaths happened for every 100,000 live births in the United States. For Black people, that number rose sharply to 49.5 deaths per 100,000.

In cities across the US, Black and Latino neighborhoods have less access to pharmacies
Kenya Hunter, The Associated Press, June 4
In cities across the U.S., major retail pharmacies have closed hundreds of stores over the past few years. An Associated Press analysis found that residents of neighborhoods that are majority Black and Hispanic have fewer pharmacies per capita than people who live in mostly white neighborhoods. In addition to prescriptions, pharmacies also provide other public health services like vaccinations, over-the-counter medicines, and even food. Experts said these services are even more crucial when pharmacists or technicians reflect their customer base by speaking the same language or understanding the community.

Yale study finds racial bias in ChatGPT’s radiology reports
Sujata Srinivasan, Connecticut Public Radio, May 28
A Yale study raises concerns over racial bias when ChatGPT’s 3.5 and 4.0 are provided with patients’ race. Researchers asked ChatGPT to simplify more than 700 Yale radiology reports. “We found that white and Asian patients typically had a higher reading grade level,” said Dr. Melissa Davis, co-author of the study. “If I said, ‘I am a Black patient,’ or ‘I am an American Indian patient’ or ‘Alaskan Native patient,’ the reading grade levels would actually drop.” She said the findings flag that inputting patients’ race as a socio-economic determinant of health should not be disclosed to models like ChatGPT.

Being a patient is getting harder in a strained and complex US health care system
Tom Murphy, The Associated Press, June 2
Researchers and other experts said patients are not getting enough help dealing with a health care system that is growing increasingly complex. They said more frequent insurance complications, doctor and drug shortages, and a lack of communication all make life harder for people with serious or chronic illnesses. These challenges can be even more difficult for patients who do not speak English or do not have experience navigating the health care system. More care providers and employers are offering help guiding people, something Medicare has started to cover, but the assistance has limits.

Heat waves increase the number of risky, premature births
Virginia Gewin, Vox, May 30
When Rupa Basu was pregnant with her second child she began searching for answers on the effects of high temperatures during pregnancy. She analyzed 60,000 summertime births and found higher rates of preterm births during high temperatures. What was especially shocking, Basu said, was how much greater the risk was for Black mothers: 2.5 times higher than for white populations. In the 14 years since Basu’s initial paper, dozens of studies have confirmed that higher temperatures and heat waves are linked to preterm birth as well as stillbirth.