Gathering evidence on the effectiveness of pulse oximeters for patient monitoring

Prof Lionel Tarassenko has been involved in a number of projects related to patient monitoring and treatment to help combat Covid-19. In addition to the remote monitoring system that he helped develop and which is now being used with Covid-19 patients on the isolation ward at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Tarassenko is running tests on the efficacy of pulse oximeters. 

Pulse oximeters – devices that measure the amount of oxygen in the blood – have become one of the latest tools that people can use at home to monitor symptoms of coronavirus. 

“Low levels of oxygen in the blood could indicate that a patient is getting critical ill with the infection. While many people have been advised to stay and treat their symptoms at home for as long as they can, testing your own blood oxygen level could help you know if or when you might need hospitalisation,” explained Tarassenko. 

Tarassenko has conducted a rapid evidence review of the technology, and is currently working with a couple of GPs in Scotland who are giving their patients pulse oximeters to measure themselves at home. Based on his findings so far, Tarassenko has recently backed calls for every home to have an oximeter to help care for people with Covid-19. 

“They only cost about £25, and their use could provide the early warning needed to undertake critical medical interventions and ultimately save lives,” Tarassenko added. But he also warned that smartphone apps that claim to be able to test oxygen saturation are not a reliable alternative. Smartphones are not equipped to monitor blood oxygen levels with any measure of accuracy, he advises. Apps can be developed to provide GPs with an instant reading from a pulse oximeter, but currently they are not fitted with an accurate tool to do the actual testing work.

Tarassenko’s remarks were recently quoted in The Times, Sunday Times and The Telegraph newspapers in their reports about the use of pulse oximeters for patient monitoring.

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