Health

U.S. Pediatrics Group to Review Policies for Misuse of Race in Medical Care

The American Academy of Pediatrics said it would re-examine policies that inappropriately use race as a factor in clinical care decisions.

The organization, which includes 67,000 pediatricians, said it would work to review policies and guidelines in textbooks, educational materials and other parts of its catalog. The announcement Monday is part of a yearslong effort from the academy to improve racial equity in medicine.

“It’s going to require effort and due diligence to unwind many of these frankly unscientific incorporations,” said Joseph L. Wright, chair of the group’s Board Committee on Equity and lead author of Monday’s policy statement. “Even just the potential risk of delivering nonsense care that could lead to negative or differential outcomes, health disparities, is enough to fix this on the front end.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said classification of individuals by racial groups is a social construct that shouldn’t be used as a biological proxy to make medical determinations.

Other medical professionals have come to similar conclusions in recent years. In November 2020, the American Medical Association’s policy-making body passed policies identifying race as a social construct. The policies from the country’s largest physicians group also included efforts to change algorithms to determine clinical decisions that incorrectly used race as a factor and led to “less-than-optimal care.”

In the American Academy of Pediatrics’ announcement Monday, the organization said it also aims to explore social factors that could affect someone’s health. It said it wants to better understand how trauma and oppression across generations affect health outcomes and tailor care accordingly.

In 2019, the organization published a policy statement addressing the “profound impact” racism has on the health of children and adolescents, including birth disparities and mental-health problems. A year later, the academy passed a resolution to prohibit the use of “race as a proxy for biology or genetics” in its literature and education. The resolution also stated that race would be “explicitly characterized as a social construct when describing risk factors for disease with all presentations at AAP-sponsored conferences.”

Last year, the organization retired its guidance for treating urinary tract infections in infants and children from ages 2 months to 24 months after questions arose about the different treatment of children of color.

The guidance was based in part on an incomplete theory that Black children were at lower risks for UTIs than white children, Dr. Wright said. A re-examination of the treatment without using race identified two other risk factors, such as having a fever for 48 hours or having an infection previously.

“We are already being much more thoughtful and much more rigorous about the biological factors that are leading to potentially disparate health outcomes,” Dr. Wright said. “This is what we want.”

As the organization continues to re-examine its own policies, it is asking other professional groups and medical societies to do the same. The organization said it would also work with medical schools and other bodies to abolish the use of race-based medicine in curricula.

Write to Jennifer Calfas at jennifer.calfas@wsj.com

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Appeared in the May 3, 2022, print edition as ‘Pediatrics Group Reviews Policies for Misuse of Race.’

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