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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,

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