Health News Roundup

Largest U.S. private employer adds coverage for doulas, and more in this week’s roundup

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Health providers say AI chatbots could improve care. But research says some are perpetuating racism
Garance Burke and Matt O’Brien, Associated Press, Oct. 20
As hospitals and health care systems turn to artificial intelligence to help summarize doctors’ notes and analyze health records, a new study cautions that popular chatbots are perpetuating racist, debunked medical ideas, prompting concerns that the tools could worsen health disparities for Black patients. Powered by AI models trained on troves of text pulled from the internet, chatbots such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard responded to the researchers’ questions with a range of misconceptions and falsehoods about Black patients, sometimes including fabricated, race-based equations, according to the study.

Walmart expands health care coverage for employees who want doulas during pregnancy
Anne D’Innocenzio, Associated Press, Oct. 24
Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is expanding nationwide its health care coverage next month for employees who want to enlist the services of a doula, a person trained to assist women during pregnancies. Walmart said the program, which began in Georgia in 2021 and kicks off nationwide on Nov. 1, is meant to address racial inequities in health care and improve the maternal and infant health of its workers and their babies, especially in areas where access to care may be limited. Other major U.S. companies are also offering full or partial doula services for employees, including CVS Health and Microsoft.

Can $500 each month, no strings attached, improve health outcomes for people recently incarcerated?
Sujata Srinivasan, Connecticut Public, Oct. 24
A pilot program in New Haven is testing whether providing formerly incarcerated people direct cash assistance results in better health outcomes. Researchers say it’s one of the first interventions for this demographic in the U.S. looking into health impacts. People who were recently incarcerated are at high risk of hospitalization, face a higher risk of cancer mortality, and are at high risk of dying. One participant shares her story.

What will it take to end the crisis of Black deaths in the U.S.?
Anika Nayak, STAT, Oct. 23
In the last two decades, Black Americans have suffered 1.63 million excess deaths compared to white Americans. Experts at the recent STAT Summit discussed the crisis of Black deaths in the U.S. and interventions that can help advance health equity. The drivers of disparate outcomes are structural racism and discrimination rooted in the U.S. health system, said the summit panelists, who research health equity.
Related: Black CT residents have higher mortality rates, report shows, José Luis Martinez, The Connecticut Mirror, Oct. 20

Researchers complete first psoriasis study solely on patients of color
Marina E. Franco, Axios, Oct. 24
A recently completed clinical trial to study psoriasis solely in people of color can serve as a stepping stone to study how other conditions impact nonwhite people, researchers say. Psoriasis is one of the most common dermatological issues in the U.S., but research has mostly focused on how it impacts white people — a common criticism of medical trials in the U.S. The trial, carried out by pharmaceutical company Janssen, recruited people of color to better understand the condition in more skin types.