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Racial Bias in Pulse Oximetry Measurement
“…in two large cohorts, Black patients had nearly three times the frequency of occult hypoxemia (low oxygen) that was not detected by pulse oximetry as White patients. Given the widespread use of pulse oximetry for medical decision making, these findings have some major implications, especially during the current coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. 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. It is important to note that not all Black patients who had a pulse oximetry value of 92 to 96% had occult hypoxemia. However, the variation in risk according to race necessitates the integration of pulse oximetry with other clinical and patient-reported data.
(J. Harris: “Bias” in this article means ” deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates.” This has nothing to do with personal racial biases on the part of the medical community. It means that measurement of oxygen saturation by means of a simple device on the patients finger MAY READ FALSELY LOW in some black patients. I suggest that my black readers might wish to check their personal oximeter and make sure it is reading correctly; then should you become ill, carry the oximeter that you know to be correct with you when you seek medical care. Obviously, this matter needs immediate attention by the medical community, both to verify and to correct the “bias.”
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