(Mis) Using pulse oximetry: a review of pulse oximetry use in acute care medical wards

S Simon, Robyn Clark

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Nurses routinely use pulse oximetry (SpO2) monitoring equipment in acute care. Interpretation of the reading involves physical assessment and awareness of parameters including temperature, haemoglobin, and peripheral perfusion. However, there is little information on whether these clinical signs are routinely measured or used in pulse oximetry interpretation by nurses.

    Aim: The aim of this study was to review current practice of SpO2 measurement and the associated documentation of the physiological data that is required for accurate interpretation of the readings. The study reviewed the documentation practices relevant to SpO2 in five medical wards of a tertiary level metropolitan hospital.

    Method: A prospective casenote audit was conducted on random days over a three-month period. The audit tool had been validated in a previous study.

    Results: One hundred and seventy seven episodes of oxygen saturation monitoring were reviewed. Our study revealed a lack of parameters to validate the SpO2 readings. Only 10% of the casenotes reviewed had sufficient physiological data to meaningfully interpret the SpO2 reading and only 38% had an arterial blood gas as a comparator. Nursing notes rarely documented clinical interpretation of the results.

    Conclusion: The audits suggest that medical and nursing staff are not interpreting the pulse oximetry results in context and that the majority of the results were normal with no clinical indication for performing this observation. This reduces the usefulness of such readings and questions the appropriateness of performing “routine” SpO2 in this context.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)106-110
    Number of pages5
    JournalClinical Effectiveness in Nursing
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


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