American Academy of Pediatrics moves to abandon race-based medical guidance

In recent years, other major doctors groups have made similar pledges, spurred by civil rights and social justice movements and by science.

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Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, a Chicago pediatrician and head of an American Academy of Pediatric group on minority health and equity. The Itasca-based organization is moving to eliminate “race-based” medical guidelines that have no basis in science.

Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, a Chicago pediatrician and head of an American Academy of Pediatric group on minority health and equity. The Itasca-based organization is moving to eliminate “race-based” medical guidelines that have no basis in science.

Lurie Children’s Hospital

For years, pediatricians have followed flawed guidelines linking race to risks for urinary infections and newborn jaundice.

Now, in a new policy, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it is putting all of its guidance under the microscope in an effort to eliminate such “race-based” medicine and the resulting health disparities.

A re-examination of the Itasca-based organization’s treatment recommendations that began before George Floyd’s 2020 death and intensified after it has doctors concerned that Black youngsters have been undertreated and overlooked, said Dr. Joseph Wright, lead author of the new policy and chief health equity officer at the University of Maryland’s medical system.

The influential academy has begun purging outdated advice. It is committing to scrutinizing its “entire catalog,” including guidelines, educational materials, textbooks and newsletter articles, Wright said.

“We are really being much more rigorous about the ways in which we assess risk for disease and health outcomes,” Wright said. “We do have to hold ourselves accountable in that way. It’s going to require a heavy lift.”

Dr. Brittani James, a Chicago family medicine doctor and co-founder of the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine, said the academy is making a pivotal move.

Dr. Brittani James.

Dr. Brittani James.

University of Illinois at Chicago

“What makes this so monumental is the fact that this is a medical institution, and it’s not just words; they’re acting,” James said.

In recent years, other major doctors groups, including the American Medical Association, have made similar pledges, spurred by civil rights and social justice movements and also by science showing the strong roles that social conditions, genetics and other biological factors play in determining health.

Last year, the pediatrics academy retired a guideline calculation based on the unproven idea that Black children faced lower risks than white kids for urinary infections. A review had shown that the strongest risk factors were prior urinary infections and fevers lasting more than 48 hours, not race, Wright said.

A revision to its newborn jaundice guidance — which currently suggests certain races have higher and lower risks — is planned for this summer, Wright said.

Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, head of an academy group on minority health and equity and a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital, said the new policy includes a brief history “of how some of our frequently used clinical aids have come to be — via pseudoscience and racism.”

No matter the intent, these aids have harmed patients, she said.

“This violates our oath as physicians — to do no harm — and as such should not be used,″ Heard-Garris said.

Dr. Valerie Walker, a specialist in newborn care and health equity at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, called the new policy “a critical step” toward reducing racial health disparities.

The academy is urging other medical institutions and specialty groups to take a similar approach in working to eliminate racism in medicine.

“We can’t just plug up one leak in a pipe full of holes and expect it to be remedied,” Heard-Garris said. “This statement shines a light for pediatricians and other healthcare providers to find and patch those holes.”

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