4 members of Congress demand research on racism within clinical algorithms

Four federal lawmakers on Sept. 22 sent a letter to HHS urging the department to intervene against racism in clinical algorithms.

The letter, addressed to HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, was signed by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. They argued that including race in clinical algorithms can cause physicians to make decisions that could worsen people of color’s health outcomes.

“Race-based medical care and algorithms must be reassessed,” the lawmakers wrote. “These algorithms may be overly simplistic in that they apply population standards to individuals and treat heterogeneous groups as biologically homogenous. It is important to understand not just that there is bias in these algorithms, but also to better understand what historical factors led to the creation of these biases, whether they are based on unscientific, racist assumptions, or if they merely reflect the effects racism has already had on the health of people of color.”

The lawmakers’ letter cited examples of clinical algorithms with racist features, including one that predicts Black and Latinx women have less of a likelihood for successful vaginal birth after a prior cesarean section and one that estimates Black patients’ kidney diseases to be less severe than that of patients who are of a different race.

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