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26 Oct 2020

Tom Simonite, Wired

USA: Study finds algorithmic decision-making in health system prevented kidney transplants to Black patients

"How an Algorithm Blocked Kidney Transplants to Black Patients", 26 Oct 2020

Black people in the US suffer more from chronic diseases and receive inferior health care relative to white people.... Doctors often make life-changing decisions about patient care based on algorithms that interpret test results or weight risks... Some of those formulas factor in a person’s race, meaning patients’ skin color can affect access to care.

A new study of patients in the Boston area... examined the effect on care of a widely used but controversial formula for estimating kidney function that by design assigns Black people healthier scores... In 64 cases, patients’ recalculated scores would have qualified them for a kidney transplant wait list. None had been referred or evaluated for transplant, suggesting that doctors did not question the race-based recommendations.

... Last year, software used by many health systems to prioritize access to special care for chronic conditions was found to systematically privilege white patients over Black patients. It didn’t explicitly take account of race, but replicated patterns in access to health care caused by factors like poverty... The issue is winning more attention, including from federal lawmakers... Last month, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and others asked the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate race-based medical algorithms.