The healthcare system doesn’t always work in favor of Black patients. However, a recent study is on a mission to change that.

According to CNN, traditional medical imaging has continuously struggled to capture clear pictures of patients with darker skin tones.

Now, researchers have successfully been able to upgrade the process that physicians use to diagnose, monitor, or care for various medical conditions.

The Issue

“When you have darker skin, you have more melanin. And melanin is actually one of the optical absorbers that we inherently have within our body,” said Muyinatu Bell in an interview with the outlet.

Bell is an author of the study and the director and founder of the Photoacoustic and Ultrasonics Systems Engineering (PULSE) Lab at JHU.

What’s more, the journal Photoacoustics published the recent findings in the October edition of its platform, noting that a team tested the forearms of 18 volunteers whose skin tones ranged from light to dark.

They found that “a distortion of the photoacoustic signal that makes the imaging more difficult to read, called clutter, increased with darkness of skin.”

“The skin essentially acts as a transmitter of sound, but it’s not the same type of focused sound that we get and we want with ultrasound, it’s everywhere diffused and creates a lot of confusion,” Bell continued. “And so, this scattering of the sound that’s caused by the melanin absorption is worse and worse with the higher melanin concentration.”

The Solution

Thanks to the study, a scientific measure, signal-to-noise ratio, used to compare the signal with background noise was able to improve medical imaging practices due to the work of researchers in Brazil who previously used one of Bell’s algorithms.

The technique, known as “short-lag spatial coherence beamforming,” was used while performing medical imaging. Although initially used for ultrasounds, it can also be used in the aforementioned photoacoustic image, thus helping to solve the issue at hand to read darker skin tones.

“We really verified that it was much less sensitive to the skin color in terms of the quality of the image that you can get compared to the conventional methods that… is more commonly used by the community,” said another author of the study and associate professor with the department of physics at the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

Racial disparities in healthcare have existed since the beginning of time, and even with this forward movement in the space, there is still much more work to do.