Pulse oximeters are less accurate in Black children

Black children were more likely to have unrecognized low oxygen levels than white children.

5:00 AM

Author | Kelly Malcom

hospital bed
Michigan Medicine

During the height of the pandemic, research from a Michigan Medicine team uncovered racial disparities in the accuracy of pulse oximeters, devices used extensively in the health care setting to gauge a patient's blood oxygen levels and used to triage patients for therapy. Consistently, Black patients were more likely than white patients to have a discrepancy between their oxygen readings on a pulse oximeter—which often read as normal—and their results from a more sensitive arterial blood gas test, which often revealed abnormally low oxygen levels.  

Recently, the same team partnered with U-M's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital pediatric critical care specialists Erica Andrist, M.D., and Ryan Barbaro, M.D., to understand whether the same phenomena occurred in Black children who were hospitalized.

In research published in JAMA Network Open, the team did an analysis of more than 9,000 blood gas tests from 186 Black pediatric patients and 934 white pediatric patients and found that 21.1% of Black children experienced arterial hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) despite a normal pulse oximeter reading—more frequently than in white children, 15.6% of whom had a discrepancy between the tests.

Further, the odds of the pulse oximeter reading failing to detect dangerously low blood oxygen was more than twice as likely in Black pediatric patients than in white pediatric patients. The results call for more research into potential health outcomes impacted by racial differences in pulse oximeter accuracy.

Paper cited: "Association of Race With Pulse Oximetry Accuracy in Hospitalized Children," JAMA Network Open. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.4584

More Articles About: Lab Notes covid-19 Lungs and Breathing medical devices infectious disease
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine




Get a weekly digest of medical research and innovation, straight to your inbox.

Featured News & Stories Courtney Weirauch and family
Health Lab
A rare diagnosis and a young mother who’s spreading the word
Courtney Weirauch didn’t know what lymphangioleiomyomatosis was – but she quickly learned about the rare lung condition and how it would impact her life.
pediatrician talking with mother at exam questions
Health Lab
Checklist for the checkup: Some parents may not be making the most of well child visits
While many parents keep recommended well visits with their child’s primary provider, some may consider more proactive steps to make checkups as productive as possible
colorful pills falling in a line
Health Lab
For COVID-19, do supplements help?
An expert cautions about becoming too enamored with pills.
Health Lab
Studying a protein modification process in worms provides potential insights for human health
Too much of this post-translational modification impacted multiple body systems
gas stove pot cooking
Health Lab
Is your gas stove really hurting you and your family?
A pulmonologist discusses the risks and offers tips for protecting your health in your home
crowded blurred people walking in city streets
Health Lab
How Americans learned science in a hurry during a pandemic
People were plunged into the issue of COVID-19