British Health Secretary Sajid Javid recommends an investigation into ‘bias’ in medical devices based on skin colour and gender. That’s coming now that monitors deployed in the covid pandemic may work worse for dark-skinned people.
A bias or built-in ‘bias’ in oxygen meters may have led to more covid victims. So says the Sajid Javid to the British broadcaster BBC. THEREFORE, the UK Health Secretary is recommending a major study of medical devices and their effectiveness across races and genders.
Although the question about the bias of, for example, algorithms and various devices have been around for some time, the direct reason here is the covid-19 pandemic. It has had a massive impact on the black and South Asian population in the United Kingdom. Black Britons, for example, are up to four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than their white fellow citizens, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics. “The possibility that a bias, even if unintentional, could lead to poorer health outcomes is unacceptable,” says Javid.
At the centre of the controversy are so-called ‘pulse oximeters’. They measure the amount of oxygen in the blood by sending pulses of light through the fingertip. The devices would work less well on people with dark skin colour, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of 2020. Earlier, American politicians also requested a review of the devices, and in the US, they are issuing warnings about their use operation.
The UK inquiry now needs to go wider and look at ‘bias’ in all medical devices, not just oxygen meters. Moreover, biases not only based on skin colour but also on gender should be considered. Javid and his US colleague hope to eventually create international standards around medical devices that require them to be tested on a wide range of people before they are sold.