Researchers have discovered than an American Healthcare app created by Optum is biased and spreading Racial Bias through its algorithm.
The application created by Optum was specifically designed to identify high-risk patients with untreated chronic diseases. The objective was to help administrators in the distribution of medical resources to those who’d benefit the most.
The application’s algorithm ranked patients according to the cost of their past treatments rather than ranking them on the basis of the severity or complexity of their illnesses.
Such ranking meant that black patients were ranked less. Black patients receive less care than white patients with the same disease burden, and ergo, account for less medical spending on average. Hence, the low ranking for them.
Upon the discovery of the flaw in the algorithm, researchers re-ranked patients according to their illnesses. As the ranking was re-done, the percentage of black patients who should have been enrolled in specialized care programs jumped from 17.7% to 46.5%.
Through this revelation, it has become quite apparent that it was the physicians that did the racial bias. If the physicians had not intended to be discriminative towards black patients, the algorithm would have never demonstrated the underlying bias.
Humans have an instinctive tendency to blame technology when it fails to perform as desired or expected. The truth is, however, Optum’s algorithm performed its function perfectly. Whatever transpired was actually desired by the physicians.
Racial bias has long been a reality of the American Healthcare Industry. The system has been directly evident in several cases of social and racial bias. However, it’s not the only form of discrimination that’s holding back the U.S. healthcare.