The practice of race correction in medicine is exposing the potential for racial discrimination in healthcare. Race correction involves particular scientific equations doctors use to evaluate bodily functions and treat patients. These equations use several variables including age, sex, and race, however doctors only have two options for race: Black and “other.”
“It was really shocking to me,” third-year medical student Naomi Nkinsi told the outlet. “To come into school and see that not only is there interpersonal racism between patients and physicians… there’s actually racism built into the very algorithms that we use.”
Dating back to slavery, medical practices in America have exploited Black people and has led to a legacy of the perpetuation of stereotypes and misinformation about Black people’s bodies that have serious consequences on the type of care we receive and our health outcomes.
In 2016, a survey of white medical students exposed racial bias and preconceived notions about Black people, including that we have thicker skin, and less nerve endings, meaning we have a higher pain tolerance. The medical students who participated in the survey were also less likely to prescribe the right amount of pain medication for Black patients.
Medical facilities promote the use of standardized equations to avoid potential bias, however these equations, which advise doctors on multiple things from kidney functioning, measuring lung capacity, brain damage evaluation, and even if someone should give birth naturally after having a C-section, have bias built in.
With race correction, these equations adjust their predictive results based on a person’s race, which can influence the treatment a person receives. Since race cannot always be determined by a person’s skin color, advocates say the use of race in these equations is not biologically-sound.
Race is “based on this idea that human beings are naturally divided into these big groups called races,” University of Pennsylvania law and sociology professor Dorothy Roberts told CNN. “But that’s not what race is. Race is a completely invented social category. The very idea that human beings are divided into races is a made-up idea.” Where or who we come from, our ancestry, however, is biological and has influences on our DNA, Roberts said.
Following the publication of an article in The New England Journal of Medicine on the use of race correction in C-Sections, Congress tapped medical organizations to provide information on the practice and researchers are developing tools that do not include a patient’s race to avoid built-in bias.
Health equity advocates like Nkinsi and other medical professionals banded together last summer amid racial justice protests and spikes in new COVID-19 cases to raise awareness about race correction and other discriminatory practices.
“It all comes from the desire for one to dominate another group and justify it,” Roberts told the outlet. “In the past, it was slavery, but the same kinds of justifications work today to explain away all the continued racial inequality that we see in American… It is mass incarceration. It’s huge gaps in health. It’s huge differences in income and wealth.”
Blaming biological factors, Roberts said, is easier than examining and addressing the institutional racism that perpetuates them.
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