Many clinical algorithms hold racial bias, study suggests

Many of the algorithms physicians use to inform their decisions on patient treatment operate with subliminal racial bias, according to a study published June 17 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The biases can make it so physicians are less likely to refer black — and in some cases, Latinx — patients for specialized care. 

These biases emerge when the algorithm's creators mistakenly conflate patients' healthcare spending with the state of their health. However, white patients often spend more on medical treatment than black patients do even when their health situations are the same.

"Modern tools of epidemiology and statistics could sort that out and show that much of what passes for race is actually about class and poverty," David Shumway Jones, MD, PhD, the study's senior author, told STAT.

The study's authors hope to encourage healthcare algorithm developers to analyze the factors connected to race in the U.S., such as healthcare access and socioeconomic status.

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