Routine pulse oximetry is gaining ground

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In recent years, pulse oximetry, a method used to measure the oxygen in the blood, has attracted increasing attention in connection with congenital heart defects. The method seems to have the potential to detect critical congenital heart defects in newborns at an early stage – even before visible symptoms occur. This is of particular significance since earliest possible diagnosis can be crucial for the further course of the disease. Various studies have assessed the examination method in detail.

Calls for the introduction of routine pulse oximetry screening

Experts as well as patients’ and parents’ associations are increasingly calling for routine pulse oximetry screening to be introduced within the scope of standard neonatal examinations.

The clinical practice currently differs between countries worldwide. In Europe, binding national screening programmes are not in force so far. Likewise, uniform standards for the measurement (e.g. time of measurement, positioning of the probe, threshold values) have not yet been drawn up. However, such standards are a precondition for the routine application of the examination method. In some European countries, for example, Switzerland and Poland, official recommendations are meanwhile available.

American states pioneering

Currently, the USA are most advanced. In 2009, the two medical societies, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA), recommended incorporating pulse oximetry into routine neonatal care. Corresponding recommendations on the introduction of standardized pulse oximetry screening, including the criteria for measurements were released in 2011 under the auspices of the AAP. Since then, area-wide pulse oximetry screening in newborns has been introduced in several US states. The remaining states are currently evaluating or planning the introduction of such screening programs (you can observe the current developments in the USA via their website).

Also in Europe, pulse oximetry is increasingly gaining ground. For example, the British Children’s Heart Federation is campaigning for area-wide pulse oximetry screening in all newborns in Great Britain and is collecting signatures for a corresponding petition.

In Germany, the Federal Joint Committee, the highest decision-making body of the joint self-government of physicians, dentists, hospitals and health insurance funds, is currently assessing the option of including pulse oximetry screening to detect critical congenital heart defects in the catalogue of medical care services covered by the compulsory health insurance system. A positive result would mean another step towards the routine use of pulse oximetry also in Germany.

Get more detailed information on the procedure of pulse oximetry here.


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Author(s): Eva Niggemeyer
Last updated: 2013-09-03