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A Major Healthcare A.I. Has a Serious Racial Bias: Brainstorm Health

October 24, 2019, 9:48 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

Algorithms can be racist—seriously. Biases are often built into programs which then carry out what their programmers (perhaps innocently and unwittingly) build into the code.

But that’s a major problem in an increasingly digital world, intentions aside. And it’s especially problematic in the healthcare arena.

Unfortunately, a new study published in the journal Science finds that an unnamed, but widely-used, A.I. algorithm meant to manage population health fell prey to these very problems. The program is meant to analyze health risks across wide populations, specifically for chronically ill patients who may require an extra level of care.

But the underlying metrics used to calculate these risks were questionable. And they had the broader effect of discriminating against people based on race, particularly black Americans.

“We show that a widely used algorithm, typical of this industry-wide approach and affecting millions of patients, exhibits significant racial bias: At a given risk score, Black patients are considerably sicker than White patients, as evidenced by signs of uncontrolled illnesses,” wrote the study authors. “Remedying this disparity would increase the percentage of Black patients receiving additional help from 17.7 to 46.5%.”

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee, @the_sy_guy, sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Viz.ai raises $50 million for A.I.-fueled stroke diagnostics. Digital health firm Viz.ai has raised $50 million from partners including GV, Kleiner Perkins, Threshold Ventures, and Greenoaks in order to build up its A.I.-fueled stroke detection platform. The company's tech is used to sniff out suspected cases of a certain kind of stroke by analyzing CT scans. (Reuters)

INDICATIONS

Vertex, British drug watchdog finally reach an agreement. The wins keep coming for Vertex Pharmaceuticals this week. First, the company won a major approval for its cystic fibrosis combo therapy Trikafta, which could potentially treat 90% of patients with the rare disorder. Now, the U.K.'s hard-nosed drug pricing/value watchdog has come to an agreement over three of Vertex's other cystic fibrosis drugs, making them available on the market. The agency had initially deemed the treatments to not be cost-effective. (PharmaTimes)

THE BIG PICTURE

CVS to pull certain J&J baby powder from the shelves. Pharmacy chains CVS and Rite Aid are yanking certain Johnson & Johnson baby powder products from their shelves following the drug giant's voluntary recall (related to asbestos concerns. "CVS Pharmacy is complying with Johnson & Johnson’s voluntary recall of Johnson’s Baby Powder 22 oz. and is removing this product from all stores and from CVS.com," CVS said in a statement. "We also initiated a ‘Do Not Sell’ register prompt in our stores to prevent the sale of this item during the product removal process." (CNBC)

REQUIRED READING

What's Next for Google After Claiming 'Quantum Supremacy'? by Robert Hackett

How Tesla Made More Profit from Less Revenueby David Z. Morris

You Might Have to Pay for Gmail. You Always Didby Aaron Pressman

Another Wrinkle Emerges in the WeWork Sagaby Erik Sherman

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