After the release of BiDil in 2007, the medical world began to challenge the perceived importance that race plays in medicine. Despite the controversy, BiDil continues to market their heart failure medication to the African American community, citing that when used in conjunction with normal HF medication BiDil causes a drop in hospitalization within this population by 39%. Although the medication has proved successful, some professionals argue that its success does not lie in a specific race group but rather in individuals with a particular ethnic background. These professionals point out that ethnicity and race are very different.
It has been found that each ethnic groups has certain genetic predispositions and because these groups often have similar facial features and physical characteristics, the idea of common genes can be mistakenly attached to race. Ethnicity is associated with the geographic location of one’s ancestors with the spatial location of their ancestors making the current population more or less susceptible to certain illnesses or diseases.
Race in itself is a social construct, however. Its mutability over decades of change helps to support this. The change in U.S. census racial self-identification categories over time is evidence. In 1790, there were just two options offered to U.S citizens whereas in the 1900s there were four (White, Black, Indian, Chinese/Japanese). As of 2010 this number has almost doubled giving individuals seven options for self-identification of race (White, Black, Other, Hispanic, Amer. Indian/Alaskan, Asian, Hawaii/Pac. Islander) with up to seven subcategories concentrated in each.
While the controversy of the medication’s success could be considered a social argument, its effect on the medical world, specifically relating to how patients treat patients with various ethnic backgrounds, continues to impact patient populations. One example of this is the effect race has had on cystic fibrosis diagnoses. Ordinarily thought of as a genetic disorder that affects the Caucasian population, many medical practitioners have failed to positively diagnosis self-identified African American patients despite their symptoms aligning with the disorder. To right this wrong, Andrea K. Westby, MD, recommends that patients be treated not on the basis of their physical characteristics or racial self-identification, but rather as a whole and complex individual. This means physicians must take time to weigh all possible diagnoses and treatment options rather than eliminating possibilities based on race.
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