Improving methods in health technology to reduce inequalities, particularly ethnicity bias, using COVID-19 as an example.
The successfully awarded research project through a funding call by Health Data Research UK and the Alan Turing Institute is led by Sara Khalid (University of Oxford) The research project will work to use national data to answer this key COVID-19 research question.
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Inequality in health has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. People from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to become very sick or die from COVID-19.
An example of inequality in health is technology for predicting a person’s future health risks. This involves routinely collected health information which is put into a computer model and then a health risk score for a patient is given. Doctors can use this to decide patient care.
If there is bias in the data or bias in the model, the doctor can potentially make wrong decisions and patients can get the wrong care or no care. This could result in some groups of patients being incorrectly prioritised over others for booster vaccines, hospital beds, or life-saving treatments. This might affect patient and public trust, as well as cost the NHS.
We are aiming to improve existing technology for predicting personalised future risk of health conditions, particularly those affecting overlooked groups of patients.
We aim to do so by:
a) improving the way recorded ethnicity is used in research, and
b) improving the modelling process to build risk prediction models designed specifically to ethnicity groups and therefore more reliable.
We know that there are ethnicity biases for cardiovascular disease in COVID-19 patients. We are developing a calculator to predict cardiovascular disease in COVID-19 patients. We will use this as a first example and will then be able to use this approach across other health and disease areas.
The calculator can be used by public to guide lifestyle choices, and by doctors to provide better care. This can also be used by researchers nationwide doing health research involving ethnicity.
This work will be based on health information that represents almost everyone currently living in England and Wales, without being traced back to them. By extending to Northern Ireland and Scotland in future, we hope that this work will help to make health equal and fair for everyone in the UK.