Report: Pulse Oximeter Shows 3-Times Less Accurate Data on Dark Skinned Individuals


Oximeters are quite important now to keep your health in check. About 40,134 new cases were reported in India as of 2 August 2021. Hence, the oximeter’s ability to run diagnoses and measure our blood oxygen levels in the body can come in real handy. People who contracted the virus or people with symptoms must monitor their levels as a precaution. But, what if the oximeter was showing the wrong data?

The National Health Service (NHS), UK has addressed an inaccuracy issue in the pulse oximeter reading for dark-skinned people, Asians, or other minorities. This inaccuracy can lead to several health complications such as delayed treatment, misleading symptoms, and even death as well.

According to the Michigan University published in The New England Journal of Medicine called “Racial Bias in Pulse Oximetry Measurement”, the inaccuracy chance of pulse oximeter readings for dark-skinned people is 3 times more.

The NHS said, “There have been some reports that may be less accurate if you have brown or black skin. They may show readings higher than the level of oxygen in your blood.”

“You should still use your pulse oximeter if you’ve been given one. The important thing is to check your blood oxygen level regularly to see if your readings are going down,”, it further added.

Meanwhile, the Director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory Dr Habib Naqvi also commented on the matter. “We need to ensure there is common knowledge on potential limitations in healthcare equipment and devices, particularly for populations at heightened risk of life-changing illness, this includes black, Asian diverse communities using pulse oximeters to monitor their oxygen levels at home,” Naqvi stated

“At this pivotal time, we cannot afford to overlook this rapid review and the recommendations for action which can prevent late hospital admissions and help improve the health of Black and minority ethnic people at risk or recovering from Covid-19. This review has stressed the need to ensure healthcare equipment and devices are culturally competent and sensitive, whilst not contributing to the array of current and historic health inequalities,”, the doctor further added.

Ravi Sharma, Royal Pharmaceutical Society Director for England said, “The ever-growing evidence from vast reputable studies highlighting the inconsistencies of pulse oximeters cannot be ignored during a pandemic significantly impacting Black and minority ethnic people.”

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