July 13, 2022

Critically Ill Patients Of Color Get Less Oxygen Treatment Than Needed

According to a recent study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, an error in a widely used medical device that measures oxygen levels prevented critically ill patients of color from receiving the supplemental oxygen they required to help them breathe.

The study comes after research from the medical journal JAMA last year revealed that pulse oximeters performed less accurately when used on Black and Hispanic patients, ultimately leading to a delay in care for patients with severe respiratory issues.

Out of 3,000 patients treated in Boston’s intensive care unit (ICU), patients of color were given significantly less oxygen than their white counterparts – primarily because of inaccurate pulse oximeter readings related to their skin pigment.

“Nurses and doctors make the wrong decisions and end up giving less oxygen to people of color because they are fooled” by incorrect readings from pulse oximeters, said Dr. Leo Anthony Celi of Harvard Medical School, who oversaw the study.

“We think it’s very reasonable at this point to call upon purchasers and manufacturers to make changes (to the devices),” said Dr. Eric Ward, co-author of an editorial published with the study, in an interview with Reuters.

Global producer of medical devices and therapies, Medtronic Plc, has already started testing new devices on participants with dark skin pigmentation “to ensure our technology will perform as intended for all patient populations.”

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Kumba Kpakima

Kumba Kpakima is a reporter at POCIT. A documentary about the knife crime epidemic in the UK got her a nomination for the UK's #30toWatch Young Journalists of the Year.