OP ED: Only In America would thermometers be racist too
A student wearing a mask has his temperature checked by a teacher before entering a school in Texas in July. (AP Photo/LM Otero) LM Otero / AP
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A new study published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA finds that temporal thermometers – used to measure body temperature on the forehead – may be less accurate than oral thermometers at detecting fevers among hospitalized Black patients.

Temporal thermometers gained popularity during the last two years, yet the global pandemic wasn’t the first time that a medical tool important for evaluating Covid-19 patients has been found less effective as it should in Black patients.

According to CNN, other studies have found that pulse oximeters – small devices that clamp onto a finger to monitor oxygen levels in the blood – may also yield inaccurate readings among people of color.

Black people have been unfairly treated by American medical institutions for generations

New data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that Black maternal mortality rose significantly during the pandemic — and that Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts.

In fact, in 2020, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 births. That number is nearly three times higher than the maternal mortality rate for White women.

Dr. Kanika Harris, Ph.D., M.P.H., Director of Maternal and Child Health at the Black Women’s Health Imperative cites ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), which is keeping a log of disrespectful, discriminatory, and racist practices by medical institutions and staff.

Dr. Harris believes it is a step in the right direction to filter out nurses and medical personnel who do harm to those most vulnerable. She explained, “Racism is like the air we breathe, it’s a part of everyday life conditioning and you don’t realize how your everyday actions can cost someone’s life.”

Black people are needed in medical research and development, but the trust is already gone for many.

Dr. Leo Anthony Celi, clinical research director and principal research scientist at the MIT Laboratory for Computational Physiology, sums it up, “it really reflects the much bigger systemic problem that we have now in the way we design, we innovate, we develop health products – not just medical devices but also medications and interventions,” he said.

“We really need to step up in terms of making sure that the research we perform is more inclusive so that we avoid these unintended consequences of the technology that we develop,” said Celi.

Yet, it is the systemic racism which existed long before Tuskegee’s Black men would be injected with Syphilis or in the present with facial recognition software weaponized against Black and Brown faces. America’s racism precedes the founding of the country itself.

And much like those who invent software, racial biases have historically proven inherent and when those persons in power are allowed to design and create life-saving instruments of health, the wellbeing of Black folks is often an afterthought.

The new research suggests that “23% of fevers in Black patients could go undetected with a temporal thermometer,” Bhavani wrote.

The researchers – from Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Hawai?i John A. Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu – examined the performance of temporal thermometers and oral thermometers in detecting fever among 2,031 Black and 2,344 White patients with infections. The patients were admitted to four Emory hospitals between 2014 and 2021.

They found that the overall temporal temperature readings tended to be lower than the oral temperature readings in Black people but not in White people.

The researchers wrote in their study that the difference in temporal versus oral thermometer readings among Black patients can lead to fevers going undetected more often – and subsequently, an illness could be misdiagnosed or even untreated.

Information in this article was obtained via CNN.

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...

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