MONTREAL -- Quebec community groups are renewing their calls for race-based data collection in the healthcare system following several studies showing some tests may be less effective on people with darker skin.

Recent academic data out of the United States show that pulse oximeter machines, which measure oxygen levels in the blood through a finger clamp containing red and infrared lights, produce less reliable readings in people with darker skin.

“It's a perfect little micro-illustration of how healthcare inequities can proceed,” said Saleem Razack, a physician at the Montreal Children's Hospital. “Probably because of the way it was tested, the way it was developed, it really aimed at lighter-skinned populations. Now we have this disparity.”

Community groups in Quebec that other disparities exist in the province's healthcare system.

“Neighbourhoods where immigrants and people of colour and Black communities were highly present had a higher rate of COVID-19 cases, as well as deaths,” said Thierry Lindor of Colours of COVID.

Last spring, several groups called for the province to begin collecting and sharing race-based data for COVID-19 patients. While the province's public health department had committed to sharing the information, it reversed its position during the summer. Public health chief Horacio Arruda explained the flip-flop at the time by saying “It's sensitive data and some groups would say we are discriminating based on rational processes.”

A spokesperson for Quebec Public Health said the National Institute of Public Health is analyzing ethnocultural data, but findings are not available to the public.

“We need accurate information and data based on race will give us that accurate information as much as data based on gender, based on age and based on income status can help us better and more strategically channel services to respond to needs,” said Centre For Research-Action on Race Relations Director Fo Niemi.