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Race can impact the medical treatment a person gets. Pediatrics wants to address that

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

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

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

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Hey, Adrian.

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 the superficial differences between people, primarily skin color. And the assumption was that those superficial differences reflected real genetic or biological differences, which we now know is not true. But that thinking has persisted in medicine, and modern medicine still uses race as sort of a proxy for biology. That, in turn, has influenced the kind of care people get.

FLORIDO: Race as a proxy for biology - can you give me an example of that?

CHATTERJEE: Yeah. So I spoke with Dr. Joseph Wright, who's one of the authors of the statement put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And he's at the University of Maryland. And one 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, it seems that Black children have a lower incidence of urinary tract infection than white children.

CHATTERJEE: And, you know, this came out of two small studies. But they haven't really been replicated nationally or internationally, and yet this continues to dictate how doctors treat kids.

FLORIDO: OK. Well, there are still, though, huge racial inequities that we see in health outcomes in the United States. I mean, during the pandemic, communities of color saw many more COVID cases and deaths when compared with white communities. So how does the academy factor that in, or does it?

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

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

CHATTERJEE: And he thinks that addressing those social things - factors is important for health equity. And there are other efforts, too, by the way. One significant one is by the board that certifies pediatricians, and that board has added questions about these factors to the board exam. And the effort was led by Dr. Yousef Turshani, who is a pediatrician in California's Bay Area.

YOUSEF TURSHANI: We had questions on microaggressions. We had questions on immigration, questions on racism, mental health.

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

CHATTERJEE: I put the question to Dr. Brittani James, a family physician in Chicago. Here's what she told me.

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

CHATTERJEE: And so she's optimistic.

FLORIDO: NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee, thanks for stopping by.

CHATTERJEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rhitu Chatterjee is a health correspondent with NPR, with a focus on mental health. In addition to writing about the latest developments in psychology and psychiatry, she reports on the prevalence of different mental illnesses and new developments in treatments.