Britain’s health secretary Sajid Javid launched a review of racial and gender biases of medical devices, with particular emphasis on pulse oximeters, which are more likely to miss low levels of oxygen in black patients than white patients.
Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in late 2020 found that pulse oximeters, which usually calculate the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream by sending light through the fingertip, are more likely to miss low levels of oxygen in Black patients than white patients. The finding also caught the attention of United States lawmakers, who asked the Food and Drug Administration to review the devices. The agency put out a warning about its limitations in February.
The review will look at bias in all medical devices, not just pulse oximeters, and will evaluate them for gender bias, as well as racial bias. Javid didn’t specifically call out medical algorithms, but those could potentially be included as they’re often regulated as medical devices in the US and UK. Over the past few years, expert analysis of algorithms showed that they’re often built in ways that reproduce racial bias.
Javid said he’d been discussing the issue with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and hopes to work with the US and other nations on international standards for medical devices.
Read the article in its entirety in The Verge.