British nurses demonstrated in London for higher pay. – AFP

A health study finds that closing the racial health disparity gap and addressing individual health are not mutually exclusive. The study is critical of the trend that has been running over the past decade where much of the U.S. healthcare sector has begun omitting race when predicting and diagnosing disease.

The reason for this trend is based on the premise that this reduces health disparities and curbs systemic racism in healthcare.

However, the study poses the question as to whether a patient’s race can be disregarded by healthcare providers when considering an individual’s health risks and treatment options?

For instance, diseases such as breast cancer or sickle cell anaemia are statistically more likely to occur in specific ethnic and racial populations.

In relation to this, medical and economic researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin, have combined to examine the predictive power of race in medicine.

Seeking to clarify the specific concerns and ultimate goals of clinical care, the new study offers a theoretical foundation for physicians, patients and policymakers as they consider the best approach to predictive models for disease prevention and treatment.

The researchers indicate it is important for providers to clarify what their goal of care is at the time of the patient’s visit. When presented with a patient with an illness, the goal of the physician should be to improve the health outcome of the individual patient, which sometimes might mean considering their race.

With the study, the researchers used a standard economic perspective on social welfare to solve for a physician’s best approach in determining an optimal plan of care for a sick patient.

The researchers then used an extended model that considers how everything that happens before a patient arrives at a doctor’s office with an illness affects a physician’s approach to treating a particular patient. These precedent conditions may include education, nutrition, socioeconomic background and other key factors.

Analysis of both models demonstrated that the clinician’s role should always be to provide optimal care for a sick patient. Noting that some diseases are statistically more likely to occur in specific ethnic and racial populations, physicians should seek to use all relevant information, including race, in order to make better clinical predictions to deliver the best care to the patient.

The research appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled “Using Measures of Race to Make Clinical Predictions: Decision Making, Patient Health and Fairness”.


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