Bias in Pulse Oximetry Forum

By October 31, 2022

November 2, 2022

9:30 – 11am ET

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Pulse oximeters are widely used, including to diagnose severity of COVID-19. Because of the bias in these critical tools, darker-skinned Americans have experienced potentially life-threatening delays to their medical care during the pandemic. Through this Forum, timed to coincide with the FDA’s advisory committee meeting on the same topic, FAS seeks insights to advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of advancing equity in government policymaking through combating bias in medical innovation.


Forum Agenda

Updated: October 31, 2022

Welcome | 9:30 – 9:45am
Welcome and introductions


Grace Wickerson, Science Policy Fellow, Federation of American Scientists
Keynote address: Open Oximetry: Designing a Better Pulse Oximeter Gregory Leeb, Fellow, Center for Health Equity in Surgery & Anesthesia, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
Part 1: Understanding the Consequences of Bias | 9:45 – 10:10am
Ideation talk: Small Biases Can Translate Into Large Differences: An Example From COVID-19 Tianshi David Wu, Assistant Professor, Baylor College of Medicine
Ideation talk: Racial Disparities in Pulse Oximetry Cannot Be Fixed With Race-Based Correction Neal Patwari, Professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering, Washington University
Part 2: How to Build an Evidence Base for Bias-Free Pulse Oximetry | 10:10 – 10:25am
Ideation talk: Using Big Data Sets to Assess Medical Technologies Jackie Gerhart, Vice President of Clinical Informatics, Epic and Sam Butler, SVP of Clinical Informatics, Epic
Ideation talk: Understanding Skin Tone Bias in Pulse Oximetry: The Roles of Measurement and Regulatory Standards Ellis Monk, Associate Professor of Sociology, Harvard University
Part 3: Approaches to Building More Equitable Devices | 10:25 – 11:00am
Ideation talk: Equitable Design for Pulse Oximetry Amy Moran-Thomas, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Ideation talk: Equitable Optics: the UCLA Pulse Oximeter and Plethysmograph Achuta Kadambi, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Ideation talk: Tracking Bias in Pulse Oximetry Through a Complex Healthcare System Harriet Nembhard, Dean of Engineering, University of Iowa
Closing remarks Grace Wickerson, Science Policy Fellow, Federation of American Scientists
Part 4: In-Person Only Focused Conversation | 11:10am – 12:00pm
The Path Forward for Equitable Progress in Pulse Oximetry Grace Wickerson, Science Policy Fellow, Federation of American Scientists

Hannah Safford, Associate Director of Science Policy, Federation of American Scientists


Sam Butler is the SVP of Clinical Informatics at Epic. He is a pulmonary and critical care physician with eight years of senior-level experience in multi-specialty medical group management and fourteen years of clinical practice. In his 21 years at Epic, he has helped guide the direction of Epic’s applications, and is heavily involved in the creation and development of new technology. He works on the Epic Research team where he studies the Cosmos dataset to help advance evidence based medicine. Sam has a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Science, and received his M.D. from the University of Florida.

Jackie Gerhart is the VP of Clinical Informatics at Epic. Her passion is to reduce barriers to medical care through the best use of technology and to improve clinician well-being through innovation. She enjoys advocating to align policy with practice to empower patients and providers. At Epic she focuses on pioneering technology – such as the use of ambient voice for documentation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning for decreasing time in the EHR, and the use of EHR data to advance the knowledge of medicine and patient-centered care. She is the lead clinical researcher for Epic Research and publishes studies on She has collaborated with the CDC on multiple research projects focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. She also works on healthcare policy at the local, state, and national levels. Jackie is an Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and still practices medicine in Madison, WI.

Achuta Kadambi received the PhD degree from MIT in 2018 and joined UCLA as Assistant Professor in EECS. He has received early career recognitions from the NSF (CAREER), DARPA (Young Faculty Award), and Army (Young Investigator Award). He has also received recognitions from IEEE-HKN (Outstanding Young Professional under 35 years old), as a National Academy of Engineering Frontiers participant, and Forbes (30 under 30, Science). Kadambi holds 19 issued US patents for inventions in computational imaging and has co-authored a textbook in Computational Imaging (MIT Press, available as free PDF). 

Gregory Leeb (MBBS, FANZCA) is an Australian-trained Anesthesiologist with a strong interest in global health equity and pediatric anesthesia. He has recently completed a fellowship in pediatric anesthesia at the Red Cross Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. He is currently completing a Master’s of Public Health to better understand the broader issues affecting access to equitable health care globally. He has assisted in developing community clinics and ongoing nurse education in Sierra Leone, and worked as a Medical Aero-Retrievalist in rural and remote Australia with Australia’s First Nations communities. Greg entered the CHESA fellowship so he may continue to develop his understanding of global surgery and health equity, and further contribute to this field in a meaningful way.

Ellis Monk is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Harvard University and Visiting Faculty Researcher at Google. His award-winning research focuses on the comparative examination of social inequality, especially with respect to race/ethnicity, in a global perspective. This research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods, while drawing heavily upon contemporary theories of social cognition and categories. By deeply engaging with issues of measurement and methodology, it examines the complex relationships between social categories and social inequality; and extends into topics such as social demography, health, aging, race/ethnicity & technology (e.g., artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision), social psychology, sociology of the body, and comparative & historical sociology. As a recent recipient of an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, he is leading a research project to examine ethnoracial and skin tone biases in pulse oximetry.

Amy Moran-Thomas is Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT, interested in the human and material entanglements that shape health in practice. She received her PhD in Anthropology from Princeton University in 2012, and held postdoctoral fellowships at Princeton and Brown before coming to MIT. Her writing often focuses on the social lives of medical objects. She also works on the cultural anthropology of intergenerational health, planetary change, and chronic conditions; as well as questions of equitable device design, technology and kinship, and the afterlives of energy (carbohydrates and hydrocarbons) across scales. Professor Moran-Thomas has conducted ethnographic and historical research in Belize, Guatemala, Ghana, Brazil and the U.S, supported by the Mellon-American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, the West African Research Association, and the American Philosophical Society. Her first book, Traveling with Sugar: Chronicles of a Global Epidemic (2019), examines the global rise of diabetes as part of the ongoing legacies of sweetness and power — including how unequal access to insulin varieties, oxygen chambers, glucose meters, dialysis devices, farming machines, coral restoration, and prosthetic limb technologies can shape how histories live on in the present, impacting lives and landscapes across generations.

Harriet B. Nembhard is dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa and holds the Roy J. Carver Professorship in Engineering. As dean, Nembhard is the college’s chief executive officer, providing strategic vision and oversight for its academic programs, research initiatives, and administrative infrastructure. Prior to this appointment, she has held academic leadership positions at Oregon State University and Penn State University. Her scholarship in the areas of manufacturing and healthcare systems engineering has been recognized by election as a Fellow of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), a Fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), and a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). Throughout her career, she has advanced a community of inclusive excellence where diversity, equity, and opportunity create a welcoming environment that enables everyone to flourish. She has led and participated in efforts in this regard across the academy and professional societies including NSF ADVANCE, NSF LATTICE, NSF TECAID, National Academy of Engineering, and Society of Women Engineers. She earned her Ph.D. and MS in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan, a BSE in industrial engineering from Arizona State University, and a BA in management from Claremont McKenna College.

Neal Patwari is a Professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. He is jointly appointed in the Dept. of Electrical and Systems Engineering and the Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering.  He was at the University of Utah in Electrical and Computer Engineering from 2006 to 2018.  He directs the Sensors, People, and Networks (SPAN) Lab, which performs research in ways in which the radio interface is a sensor that can make wireless networking more robust and secure; and also in how “smart’’ and AI systems interact with systemic inequality in society.  His research perspective was shaped by his BS and MS in EE at Virginia Tech, research work at Motorola Labs in Plantation, Florida, and his PhD in EE at the University of Michigan. He received the NSF CAREER Award in 2008, the 2009 IEEE Signal Processing Society Best Magazine Paper Award, and the 2011 U. of Utah Early Career Teaching Award.  He has co-authored papers with best paper awards at IEEE SenseApp 2012 and at the ACM/IEEE IPSN 2014 conference.  Neal has served on technical program committees for IPSN, MobiCom, SECON, IPIN, WiSec, and SenSys.

Hannah Safford is Associate Director of Science Policy at the Federation of American Scientists. Hannah has deep experience working on both sides of the science-policy nexus, including as a policy advisor for the 2020 Biden-Harris presidential campaign, a fellow at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; a researcher with the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy; and as Chair of the City of Davis Natural Resources Commission. Hannah’s work and commentary has been featured on MSNBC and Al Jazeera, as well as in Nature, PNAS, and others. Hannah holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Davis, as well as an MPA in Public and International Affairs, an M.Eng in Environmental Engineering and Water Resources, and a B.S.E. in Chemical and Biological Engineering, all from Princeton University.

Grace Wickerson is a science policy fellow at the Federation of American Scientists where their work focuses on embedding equity in health innovation policy. An engineer by training, they will receive their master’s degree in materials science and engineering from Northwestern University in December 2022. At Northwestern, they designed skin-interfacing wearable monitoring devices that communicate with implanted devices that safely dissolve in the body after use. Their work has been published in PNAS and Science. Alongside health equity leaders in Chicago, they have co-created engineering design methods for building with those closest to health disparities. They write about engineering, ethics, and social justice in outlets like Scientific American. Grace received their B.S. from Rice University in Materials Science and Nanoengineering.

Tianshi David Wu is an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He is a physician-scientist with expertise in electronic health record epidemiology and observational clinical research. He treats patients with COVID-19 both as an intensive care physician and outpatient pulmonologist.

Please contact Jacob Robertson, FAS Science Policy Manager, with questions at