Addressing Race in Pulmonary Function Testing by Aligning Intent and Evidence With Practice and Perception

Chest. 2022 Jan;161(1):288-297. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2021.08.053. Epub 2021 Aug 24.


The practice of using race or ethnicity in medicine to explain differences between individuals is being called into question because it may contribute to biased medical care and research that perpetuates health disparities and structural racism. A commonly cited example is the use of race or ethnicity in the interpretation of pulmonary function test (PFT) results, yet the perspectives of practicing pulmonologists and physiologists are missing from this discussion. This discussion has global relevance for increasingly multicultural communities in which the range of values that represent normal lung function is uncertain. We review the underlying sources of differences in lung function, including those that may be captured by race or ethnicity, and demonstrate how the current practice of PFT measurement and interpretation is imperfect in its ability to describe accurately the relationship between function and health outcomes. We summarize the arguments against using race-specific equations as well as address concerns about removing race from the interpretation of PFT results. Further, we outline knowledge gaps and critical questions that need to be answered to change the current approach of including race or ethnicity in PFT results interpretation thoughtfully. Finally, we propose changes in interpretation strategies and future research to reduce health disparities.

Keywords: pulmonary function test; race or ethnicity; racial disparities; reference equations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asian People
  • Black People
  • Ethnicity*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / ethnology
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Lung*
  • Racial Groups*
  • Reference Values
  • Respiratory Function Tests*
  • Spirometry
  • White People