Deconstructing the Way We Use Pulmonary Function Test Race-Based Adjustments

Nicole B. Ramsey, Andrea J. Apter, Elliot Israel, Margee Louisias, Lenora M. Noroski, Sharmilee M. Nyenhuis, Princess U. Ogbogu, Tamara T. Perry, Julie Wang, Carla M. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Race is a social construct. It is used in medical diagnostic algorithms to adjust the readout for spirometry and other diagnostic tests. The authors review historic evidence about the origins of race adjustment in spirometry, and recent attention to the lack of scientific evidence for their continued use. Existing reference values imply that White patients have better lung function than non-White patients. They perpetuate the historical assumptions that human biological functions of the lung should be calculated differently on the basis of racial-skin color without considering the difficulty of using self-identified race. More importantly, they fail to consider the important effects of environmental exposures, socioeconomic differences, health care access, and prenatal factors on lung function. In addition, the use of “race adjustment” implies a White standard to which other non-White values need “adjustment.” Because of the spirometric guidelines in place, the current diagnostic prediction adjustment practice may have untoward effects on patients not categorized as “White,” including underdiagnosis in asthma and restrictive lung disease, undertreatment with lung transplant, undercompensation in workers compensation cases, and other unintended consequences. Individuals, institutions, national organizations, and policymakers should carefully consider the historic basis, and reconsider the current role of an automated, race-based adjustment in spirometry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)972-978
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Pulmonary function test
  • Race correction
  • Spirometry
  • Structural racism


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