Pulse Oximetry

March 1, 2011 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance


Pulse oximetry has become such an effective method of noninvasively monitoring oxygenation of the patient during anesthesia that it is considered mandatory by professional anesthesia organizations in many countries and is endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), as well. Results of WHO’s Global Oximetry project, published in 2009, explored the feasibility of making pulse oximetry a standard of care for all patients worldwide as part of the Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative. (Walker et al.)

Pulse oximetry monitoring is already a standard of care across many medical settings—in the operating room (OR), postanesthesia care unit (PACU), intensive care unit (ICU), or neonatal ICU; during emergency medical transport and emergency department (ED) examination; and even in general medical floors or outpatient clinics. This noninvasive measurement also offers convenient and fast results in sleep labs, home health, and assisted-living facilities.

There are several benefits to pulse oximetry, including the ability to noninvasively measure blood saturation. Measurements can be taken continuously for long-term monitoring or for spot checks. Deterioration of the patient’s condition is quickly evident, and response to therapy—specifically, oxygen therapy—can be measured rapidly (Booker).

This Risk Analysis covers important topics related to pulse oximetry throughout the continuum of care, including the following issues:

Pulse oximeters display oxygen saturation (SpO2) and pulse rate. Some oximeters will display a plethysmogram, a waveform representing the strength...

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