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Biomedical Information and Systemic Racism

By Tierra Sheffield

Racism has typically been something that involves only simply being prejudiced against a person because of their skin color, but it also seems to be linked to science and medicine, according to a web seminar held by Dr. James Cimino, Senior Scientist at the UAB Informatics Institute.

“Biomedical informatics is not devoid of racism and is something that we should be thinking about when we are thinking about eliminating racism”, Cimino said. Most attendees were professors, or employees that worked with the hospital affiliated with the university. Cimino said bias in the medical field based on mechanical algorithms aids in system racism. “If the data is biased then they’re going to bias the machine learning algorithm,” Cimino said.

Attendees were allowed the choice of commenting in the chat section of the seminar or waiting until Dr. Cimino called for questions. Most of them chose not to wait until the conference was over and dove right in to speaking their mind in the comments. One attendee was very open about his views on race in the social word and medical field. “Race is a social construct. Not even a phenotype!” said Dr. Kevin Johnson of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The stereotype that the skin of African American people is thicker than that of white people had been around for decades. While some would argue that the Electronic Health Record (EHR) is pretty biased some feel differently. It can be argued that the EHR can be helpful when race is involved. Pavithra Dissanayake, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at UAB said, “There are some diseases that have a negative effect on African American patients more so than others, so race being recorded in the EHR is important.”

Despite how much some try to see the EHR in a positive light in the medical field, the data it uses when race is involved can still be misconstrued. Hope Gray graduate research assistant at UAB said, “One of the challenges that we face as chaplains in the EHR is that the data is entered by patient access,” Gray said, “Sometimes patient access will assume by the looks of somebody that their Hispanic or assume that they’re catholic because they’re Hispanic.”

“Let’s get rid of the race/ethnicity in the EHR to begin with,”said Umberto Tachinardi, director of clinical research informatics and chief information officer at Regenstrief Institute.

Edited By: Diane Mwai, John H. Glenn, & Breeze Yancie

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