The new research was conducted by UC Berkeley on an algorithm that many US health providers use to predict which patients will most need extra medical care. The results of it were quite racist as it showed that white patients were given higher risk scores, and were, therefore, more likely to be selected for extra care (like nursing or dedicated appointments), than black patients who were in fact equally sick. The researchers dug through almost 50,000 records from a large, undisclosed academic hospital.
The researchers didn’t say, but the Washington Post identifies it as Optum, owned by insurer UnitedHealth. It says its product is used to “manage more than 70 million lives.” The algorithm used the patient’s medical history to calculate how much they were likely to cost the health-care system. For socio-economic and other reasons, black patients have historically incurred lower health-care costs than white patients with the same conditions. As a result, the algorithm gave white patients the same scores as black patients who were significantly sicker. The researchers worked with Optum to correct the issue. They reduced the disparity by more than 80% by creating a version that predicts both a patient’s future costs and the number of times a chronic condition might flare-up over the coming year.