After the release of a controversial but successful new heart medication in 2007, the medical world began to challenge the importance placed on race as it relates to medicine. Despite controversy, the company continues to market heart failure medication to the African American community, citing that when used in conjunction with HF medication, the medication causes a user’s chance of hospitalization to drop by 39%. Although the medication has proved successful, some professionals argue that its marketing tactics should not relate to a specific race but rather in individuals certain ethnic backgrounds. These professionals point out that ethnicity and race are very different.

Defining Ethnicity

It has been found that each ethnic group has certain genetic predispositions. Because groups often have similar 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. The historic spatial distribution of our ancestors caused their genes to evolve over time. These changes affect the current population, making certain individuals more or less susceptible to illnesses or diseases.

Understanding Race

Race in itself is a social construct. Its mutability over decades supports 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 1900’s, there were four (White, Black, Indian, Chinese/Japanese). As of 2010, this number has doubled giving individuals seven options for self-identification of race (White, Black, Other, Hispanic, Amer. Indian/Alaskan, Asian, Hawaii/Pac. Islander). Within each of these options are subcategories, with some having as many as seven. 

Best Practices for Making Diagnosis

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, practitioners have failed to positively diagnosis self-identified African American patients. Often times healthcare providers overlooked symptoms even when they aligned 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 as a complex individual. This means physicians must take time to weigh possible diagnoses rather than eliminating possibilities based on race.

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