A new study reveals that Black men in California and across the U.S. might be underdiagnosed with lung disease because of racial biases built into diagnostic algorithms used by physicians. When a doctor relies on a diagnostic test that uses one of these biased algorithms, a patient might have a delayed diagnosis and not receive the treatment they require until their disease has worsened.
Racially biased algorithm leads to delayed and missed diagnoses
Researchers reviewed diagnostic data for 2,700 Black and 5,700 white men tested for lung diseases between 2010 and 2020 at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. The men had been tested for lung impairments with spirometers and measurements of lung volume. Data from spirometers are analyzed with computer software that relies on an algorithm with built-in assumptions about race. The health field long held a belief that Black men had poorer lung health in general, and this idea was used when creating the algorithms used by the software. Researchers found that among the men who were tested for lung diseases, 400 additional cases should have been diagnosed but weren’t because of the doctors’ reliance on the algorithm-provided information.
Delayed diagnoses and medical malpractice
In some cases, a delayed diagnosis will rise to the level of medical malpractice. When a person’s diagnosis is delayed, their underlying condition can progress and be more difficult to treat when it is finally discovered. A plaintiff has the burden of proving the following legal elements in a medical malpractice case:
- Establishment of a doctor-patient relationship
- The relevant medical standard of care the doctor should have met
- A breach of the medical standard of care in the treatment provided by the doctor
- Causation of the injury by the breach of the standard of care
- Calculable damages resulted
Some cases involving a delayed diagnosis won’t rise to the level of medical malpractice. For example, if your diagnosis was delayed, but you suffered no real harm because of the delay, you won’t have a viable claim. By contrast, if your doctor relied on a faulty algorithm and failed to properly diagnose you with other tests and observations a reasonable doctor in the area wouldn’t have missed, you could have a claim if your condition significantly worsened as a result.