California investigates racial bias in health algorithms

The California Attorney General is investigating racial bias in healthcare algorithms that can be used to help determine patient care.

Senior prosecutor Rob Bonta announced the state Department of Justice investigation on Wednesday, citing a study that found an algorithm referred white patients for enhanced services at a higher rate than their black counterparts. with similar needs.

“We are launching a survey of healthcare algorithms and asking hospitals across the state to share information about how they are working to address racial and ethnic disparities when using software products to help make decisions about patient care or hospital administration,” Bonta said in a statement. .

The Justice Department sent a letter to hospital CEOs across the state requesting lists of any “software systems or algorithmic methodologies” used to make risk predictions or diagnoses.

The letter also asked hospitals to include systems that help plan operating room schedules as well as payment plans and billing issues.

Although healthcare algorithms vary from complex networks to simple programs, they are a rapidly growing part of the medical industry and are used to make key decisions about patient care, the attorney general said.

“Using healthcare algorithms can help streamline processes and improve patient outcomes, but without proper review, training, and guidelines for use, algorithms can have unintended negative consequences, especially for vulnerable patient groups,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Sharon D. Cole