Pulse oximeters are less accurate in hospitalized Black children

During the height of the pandemic, research from a Michigan Medicine team uncovered racial disparities in the accuracy of pulse oximeters, devices used extensively in the health care setting to gauge a patient’s blood oxygen levels and used to triage patients for therapy. Consistently, Black patients were more likely than white patients to have a discrepancy between their oxygen readings on a pulse oximeter—which often read as normal—and their results from a more sensitive arterial blood gas test, which often revealed abnormally low oxygen levels.

Recently, the same team partnered with pediatric medicine colleagues to understand if the same phenomena occurred in Black children who were hospitalized. In research published in JAMA Network Openthey did an analysis of 186 Black pediatric patients and 934 white pediatric patients and found that 21.1% of Black children experienced arterial hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) despite a normal pulse oximeter reading—more frequently than in white children.

Further, the odds of the pulse oximeter reading failing to detect dangerously low blood oxygen was more than twice as likely in Black pediatric patients than in white pediatric patients. The results call for more research into potential outcomes of racial differences in pulse oximeter accuracy.

Paper cited: “Association of Race With Pulse Oximetry Accuracy in Hospitalized Children,” JAMA Network Open. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.4584

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