Racial Bias Seen in Heart Transplants

November 7, 2019
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Racial bias among health care providers limits black Americans’ odds of receiving a heart transplant, a new study finds. Researchers asked 422 U.S. physicians, nurses and other hospital decision-makers to review the hypothetical cases of black men and white men with heart failure and to decide if the patients should be referred for a heart transplant.

The hypothetical cases had identical medical and social history. Race was the only difference among them. Individually, there were few racial differences in participants’ transplant recommendations.

But when a subgroup of 44 discussed the cases together — more closely simulating how such decisions are actually made — there was racial bias, according to the University of Arizona researchers. In the group discussion, black patients were considered less healthy, less likely to comply with follow-up care recommendations and less trustworthy than white patients.

This meant that black patients were more likely to be recommended for mechanical pump devices instead of heart transplants, especially if the healthcare provider was older than 40.