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We handle medical negligence cases quite frequently where oxygen or the lack of oxygen is an issue. In these cases pulse oximetry comes up and naturally folks ask many questions, including myself. So, here is some information that explains the term pulse oximetry.

What is pulse oximetry?

Pulse Oximetry is a simple non-invasive method that monitors the percentage of hemoglobin which is saturated with oxygen. This data is necessary whenever a patient’s oxygenation is unstable, including intensive care, critical care, and emergency department areas of a hospital.

How is a patient’s hemoglobin measured?

A sensor is placed on a thin part of the patient’s anatomy, usually a fingertip, earlobe, or across the foot. A light containing both red and infrared wavelengths is passed from one side to the other. Changing absorbance of each of the two wavelengths is measured, allowing determination of the absorbances due to the pulsing arteria blood alone, excluding skin, bone, muscle, fat, and fingernail polish. Based upon the ratio of changing absorbance of the red and infrared light caused by the difference in color between oxygen-bound and oxygen unbound blood hemoglobin, a measure of oxygenation can be made.

Why is it so important?

Pulse oximeters may be used in a variety of situations, but are of particular value for monitoring oxygenation and pulse rates throughout anesthesia.

In intensive care oximeters are used extensively during mechanical ventilation and frequently detect problems with oxygenation before they are noticed clinically.

Safety features and hazards related to how pulse oximetry should be handled in hospitals?

When patients are sedated for procedures such as endoscopy, oximetry has been shown to increase safety by alerting the staff to unexpected hypoxia.

However, on rare occasions, oximeters may develop faults and like all monitoring the reading should always be interpreted in association with the patient’s clinical condition.

Perhaps the major challenge facing pulse oximetry is whether this technology can be incorporated effectively into diagnostic and management algorithms that can improve the efficiency of clinical management in the intensive care unit.

Pulse oximetry is probably one of the most important advances inrespiratory monitoring. Over the last 15 years, numerous studies have focused on the technical aspects of pulse oximeters and found that these intrustments have a reasonable degree of accuracy.

I would like to thank John Shaw, our law clerk, for helping me research this important topic.

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