According to a recent study conducted by Imperial College London, measuring blood oxygen levels at home is a safe approach for individuals with COVID-19 to identify warning indicators that their health may be deteriorating and that they may need urgent and inpatient hospitalization. Pulse oximeters are medical devices used to measure a patient’s blood oxygen saturation. Prior studies have demonstrated that a drop in an individual’s blood oxygen levels is a critical indicator of a COVID-19 patient’s health worsening and may indicate the need for closer monitoring and immediate treatment.
The study, which was published in the journal Lancet Digital Health, investigated 13 studies with over 3,000 participants in five different countries, the majority of which were conducted during the first pandemic wave. According to the study, pulse oximeters served as a “safety net,” allowing care teams to take action by providing early detection of COVID-19-related deterioration. In addition, the researchers found that the device can also contribute to reducing hospital admissions. However, they call attention to the shortage of studies on darker skinned patients, for whom oximetry may be less reliable than in white people and the lack of data to determine whether pulse oximetry can enhance the health outlook for its users.
“Our research has demonstrated how the use of pulse oximetry in remote patient monitoring could help ease the strains on health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic”, said Dr Ana Luisa Neves, Advanced Research Fellow from the Institute of Global Health Innovation. “However, it’s vital to ensure that the current lack of research in racially and ethnically diverse populations is addressed. It’s therefore critical to provide support to ensure this technology reduces, rather than entrenches, existing health inequalities.”
The researchers identified a number of important recommendations based on their findings that can support in standardizing the use of oximetry in COVID-19 monitoring at home. The study stresses the importance of using a set cutoff threshold for blood oxygen levels (92%), which will help medical professionals determine whether a patient has to be treated in a hospital and whether they can rule out the need for additional care at that particular time.