Calif. AG Announces Healthcare Algorithm Bias Investigation

In a Wednesday press release, California attorney general Rob Bonta announced that his office will open an inquiry into whether healthcare providers are using software that results in disparate impacts based on race and ethnicity.

Specifically, the AG’s office has reportedly “sent letters to hospital CEOs across the state requesting information about how healthcare facilities and other providers are identifying and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in commercial decision-making tools.”

“Our health affects nearly every aspect of our lives – from work to our relationships. That’s why it’s so important that everyone has equal access to quality healthcare,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We know that historic biases contribute to the racial health disparities we continue to see today. It’s critical that we work together to address these disparities and bring equity to our healthcare system.”

The press release explained that algorithms can range from simple decision trees to more complex artificial intelligence systems. These systems, per the announcement, are opaque to consumers and sometimes even the healthcare providers using the tools.

“For example, researchers found one widely used algorithm that referred white patients for enhanced services more often than Black patients with similar medical needs. The problem was that the algorithm made predictions based on patients’ past record of healthcare services, despite widespread racial gaps in access to care.

The letters to hospitals reportedly request a listing of tools used by providers currently in use, the purposes for which they are used, and names of people who evaluate the tools.