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Lupus Images Fall Short in Diversity

Lupus images in medical resource materials underrepresent patients with skin of color, based on data from a review of more than 1,400 images published between 2014 and 2019 in materials from a university’s online medical library.

Patients with skin of color who develop lupus tend to present earlier and with more severe cases, and often experience worse outcomes, compared with other populations, wrote Amaad Rana, MD, of Washington University, St. Louis, and colleagues. Medical resources in general have historically underrepresented patients of color, and the researchers reviewed lupus materials for a similar publication bias.

In a study published in Arthritis Care & Research, the investigators identified 1,417 images in rheumatology, dermatology, and internal medicine resources, including 119 medical textbooks, 15 medical journals, 2 online image libraries, and the online image collections of Google and UpToDate. An additional 24 images came from skin of color atlases.

Excluding the skin of color atlases, 56.4% of the images represented light skin, 35.1% showed medium skin, and 8.5% showed dark skin. Overall, publishers were more than twice as likely to portray light skin tones and were significantly less likely to portray dark skin tones (odds ratios, 2.59 and 0.19, respectively), compared with an equal representation of skin tones; however, the difference was not significant for portrayal of medium skin tones (OR, 1.08).

By specialty, dermatology was more inclusive of skin of color images than rheumatology or internal medicine, although the internal medicine sample size was too small for comparable analysis, the researchers noted. Dermatology textbooks were 2.42 times more likely and rheumatology textbooks were 4.87 times more likely to depict light skin tones than an equal representation of light, medium, and dark skin tones.

The researchers rated the skin color in the images using the New Immigrant Survey Skin Color Scale and categorized the images as representing light (NISSCS scores, 1-2), medium (NISSCS scores, 3-5), or dark skin (NISSCS scores, 6-10). Medical journals had the most images of dark skin, excluding skin of color atlases. In a comparison of specialties, dermatology materials included the most images of medium and darker skin tones.

The underrepresentation of skin of color patients can contribute to a limited knowledge of lupus presentation that could lead to disparate health outcomes, the researchers noted.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the review of only the online textbooks and journals available through the medical library of a single university, the researchers noted. In addition, definitions of light, medium, and dark skin tones were variable among studies, and the researchers did not distinguish among lupus pathologies.

“Further research is needed to quantitatively assess the influence these materials have on healthcare providers’ ability to care for patients with lupus and SOC, and new material and strategies will be required to correct this disparity and promote equitable representation,” the researchers emphasized. “Ultimately, this will arm practitioners with the resources to competently treat patients with any skin color and work towards reducing disparities in health outcomes.”

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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