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Blood oxygen devices potentially giving ‘seriously misleading’ results to Black people, experts warn

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Devices which measure blood oxygen levels could be giving “seriously misleading” results for Black and minority ethnic people, possibly contributing to increased Covid-19 mortality, experts have warned.

Pulse oximeters attach a clip-like device to a person’s finger, toe or earlobe and send a beam of infrared light to measure oxygen levels in the blood.

The resulting reading can be used to monitor oxygen levels of people with a variety of conditions, including by people at home with coronavirus, and to assess patients in hospital.

At the moment, coronavirus patients who call an ambulance but are not yet deemed sick enough to go to hospital are being given new home oxygen monitoring kits to help spot those who may deteriorate earlier, and over 300,000 oximeters have been sent out by NHS England.

But a new paper cites a “growing body of evidence” that pulse oximetry is less accurate in darker skinned patients.

This could be contributing to health inequalities such as the increased COVID-19 mortality rates of ethnic minority patients, according to a review conducted for the NHS Race and Health Observatory.

It is now calling for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to urgently review pulse oximetry products for ethnic minority people used in hospitals and by the wider public.

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Source: The Independent, 27 March 2021

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