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FDA: Pulse oximeters may be inaccurate on people of color

23.02.21, 01:11

Pulse oximeters — viewed as a critical in the fight against A matter of trust: Overcoming COVID-19 vaccin... 11:46

Most oximeters are likely calibrated using light-skinned individuals, on the assumption that skin pigment doesn't matter, whereas skin color is a factor in the product's reading involving infrared red light absorption into the skin, researchers surmised in 2007.  

The issue is even more pertinent amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has more people buying pulse oximeters for use at home and doctors and other health professionals using them at work. Further, Black, Latino and Native Americans are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than others, according to CDC data.

"Given the widespread use of pulse oximetry for medical decision making, these findings have some major implications, especially during the current coronavirus disease," University of Michigan Medical School Drs. Michael Sjoding, Robert Dickson, Theodore Iwashyna, Steven Gay and Thomas Valley wrote in a December letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. "Our results suggest that reliance on pulse oximetry to triage patients and adjust supplemental oxygen levels may place Black patients at increased risk for hypoxemia," or low blood oxygen, they wrote. 

The FDA faulted the research as limited due to its reliance on "previously collected health record data" from hospital visits that could not be statistically corrected for other potentially important factors. "However, the FDA agrees that these findings highlight a need to further evaluate and understand the association between skin pigmentation and oximeter accuracy," it stated. 

In addition to skin color, poor circulation, skin thickness, skin temperature, tobacco use and fingernail polish can also affect the product's accuracy, the FDA found.

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