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Study finds racial bias may affects decisions on heart transplant recipients

Posted November 11, 2019 in Articles

Author: Mary Kilpatrick,

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Racial bias may affect whether black patients with heart failure are approved for heart transplants, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers in Arizona asked 422 doctors, nurses and other hospital decision-makers to look at a pool of hypothetical patients, both black and white, and decide which should be referred for a heart transplant. The hypothetical patients had the same medical and social histories; the only difference was race.

Milwaukee recently declared racism as a public health crisis, and city and county officials discussed the move during a Cleveland summit Friday centered around racism and public health, 400 Years of Inequity: A Call to Action in Cleveland. The event was organized by First Year Cleveland, a coalition dedicated to eliminating infant mortality, and the YWCA Greater Cleveland and marked the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arrival in North America.

When the survey, paid for by the National Institutes of Health, participants evaluated the cases individually, researchers found few differences in recommendations for transplants due to race.

When a group of 44 participants gathered to discuss the patients, in a setting similar to actual advanced therapy selection meetings, researchers discovered racial bias.

“African-American race negatively influenced the decision-making process for heart transplants, especially during discussions among health care providers,” said lead author Khadijah Breathett, an assistant professor of medicine and advanced heart failure/transplant cardiologist at the University of Arizona’s Sarver Heart Center, in a news release.

The health professionals participating in the survey “perceived black patients as less healthy than whites, less likely to comply with follow-up care recommendations and less trustworthy,” according to the release.

Black patients were more likely to be prescribed ventricular assist devices, pumps that helps blood flow, than heart transplants, especially if their health care provider was over 40.

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