Many aspects of pulse oximeter function may be dysfunctional in people with darker skin, Elizabeth Tracey reports


Pulse oximeters, vital for measuring how much oxygen is in someone’s blood, don’t work well in people with darker skin, multiple studies have shown. Ashraf Fawzy, a critical care medicine expert at Johns Hopkins, says even the degree to which these devices report aberrant values varies.

Fawzy: Some studies showed that the discrepancy changes throughout the day for the same person, so their skin tone or the skin pigmentation hasn't changed but you may have a discrepancy for one reading but for the next reading there's no discrepancy. And this was much more common in people of black race rather than white race. There's a multifactorial issue going on here and that's why I say it's probably going to take the technological update to really get these devices to be more accurate.   :30

Fawzy says for now, only arterial blood gas measurement will provide correct assessment of blood oxygen levels in people with darker skin. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.