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Can Medicine Be ‘Race-Conscious’ Without Being Racist?

Medicine should strive to be “race-conscious without being racist,” said David Jones, MD, PhD, during a webinar on racism in healthcare artificial intelligence (AI) Tuesday, which was sponsored by the National Institute for Health Care Management.

“Should doctors treat patients of different races differently because of their race and ethnicity? They clearly do,” said Jones, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. “Researchers have documented many regrettable cases in which disparities in medical treatment reflect structural institutional or interpersonal racism.”

However, “race-based medicine often has a defensible logic,” he continued. “Researchers have documented race differences in disease prevalence and therapeutic outcomes. Clinicians, in response, have factored race into diagnostic tests, risk calculators, and treatment guidelines.” But, unfortunately, “many of these race-adjusted tools direct medical attention towards white patients. This is perverse at a time where people of color suffer higher mortality rates for many diseases.”

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