Medical treatment

Race can impact the medical treatment a person receives. Pediatrics wants to fix this : NPR

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls for an end to “race-based medicine”, in which doctors sometimes use race as a factor in determining the treatment patients receive.


The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for the end of, quote, “race-based medicine.” This week, the academy said it would revise all of its policies and guidelines to eliminate language suggesting races have underlying biological differences that should be considered in medical treatments.

NPR health correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee is here to tell us more. Hello Rhitu.


FLORIDO: First of all, what does race-based medicine mean?

CHATTERJEE: So, you know, going back to how races were originally defined – you know, it was based on superficial differences between people, mainly skin color. And the assumption was that these superficial differences reflected genuine genetic or biological differences, which we now know is not true. But this thinking has persisted in medicine, and modern medicine still uses race as a sort of proxy for biology. This, in turn, has influenced the type of care people receive.

FLORIDO: Race as a proxy for biology – can you give me an example?

CHATTERJEE: Yeah. So I spoke with Dr. Joseph Wright, who is one of the authors of the statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And he’s at the University of Maryland. And an example he gave me was that, you know, doctors are less likely to use this gold standard test for black kids for urinary tract infections.

JOSEPH WRIGHT: The hypothesis was that it seems that black children have a lower incidence of urinary tract infections than white children.

CHATTERJEE: And, you know, that came out of two little studies. But they haven’t really been replicated nationally or internationally, and yet it continues to dictate how doctors treat children.

FLORIDA: Alright. Well, there are still huge racial inequalities that we see in health outcomes in the United States. I mean, during the pandemic, communities of color have seen a lot more COVID cases and deaths compared to white communities. So how does the academy take this into account, or do it?

CHATTERJEE: So the academy is trying to address those inequities, right? It’s part of that effort. And we know that race has a major influence on health, not because races are different in terms of biology, but because they determine people’s social circumstances through systemic racism – so where do you live, if you have access to transportation, good jobs, access to health care. And Wright says doctors need to know these things.

WRIGHT: We’re not at all suggesting that we ignore the impact of race on health outcomes. I think we all know, you know, race certainly has a role to play in the health status of individuals.

CHATTERJEE: And he thinks addressing those social factors is important for health equity. And there are also other efforts, by the way. One of the biggest is the board that certifies pediatricians, and that board has added questions about those factors to the board exam. And the effort was led by Dr. Yousef Turshani, a pediatrician in the California Bay Area.

YOUSEF TURCHANI: We had questions about microaggressions. We had questions about immigration, questions about racism, mental health.

FLORIDO: So Rhitu, are these efforts likely to change the way pediatricians treat their patients?

CHATTERJEE: I asked Dr. Brittani James, a family physician in Chicago. Here is what she told me.

BRITTANI JAMES: Really, what’s so exciting about this is that it’s action instead of just words, which has really been the status quo in the field, but also that we know that it could be a–probably a domino effect, and it opens the door to accountability to other organizations.

CHATTERJEE: And so she’s optimistic.

FLORIDO: Rhitu Chatterjee from NPR, thanks for stopping by.

CHATERJEE: Thank you.

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