Artificial intelligence and other software technologies, while making a difference in senior living residents’ health and safety and improving efficiencies for staff, also have had negative consequences, including hiring discrimination issues and potential errors in electronic health records.
Now, a software bias in a lung function test could be leading to fewer Black patients getting care for breathing problems, according to researchers.
Up to 40% more Black male patients might have been diagnosed with breathing problems if current diagnosis-assisting computer software was changed, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.
Assumptions about racial differences in health, including one that Black people’s lungs were innately worse than those of white people, have ended up in modern guidelines and algorithms for assessing risk and determining care, according to the AP.
The new study, which included more than 2,700 Black men and 5,700 white men tested by University of Pennsylvania Health System doctors between 2010 and 2020, focused on a test to determine how much and how quickly people can inhale and exhale. Researchers assessed how many lung volume measurements were found to have breathing impairments under the race-based algorithm compared to a new algorithm, and concluded there would be nearly 400 additional cases of lung obstruction or impairment in Black men with the new algorithm.
Patients’ breathing scores determine whether they need testing for asthma, obstructive pulmonary disorder or lung scarring due to air pollution. If Black men are scored inappropriately, they’re less likely to get started on medication or be referred for procedures like lung transplants, the study said.
Asthma is common among older adults, with 7.8% of adults aged 65 and older having asthma. Black, Hispanic and Indigenous populations have the highest asthma rates, deaths and hospitalizations, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.