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Study finds race, ethnicity are seldom mentioned in pediatric clinical guidelines

Faulty oxygen readings added to COVID-19 disparities, study finds

Covid-19 care, including distribution of lifesaving therapies, was significantly delayed for Black and Hispanic patients due to inaccurate oxygen readings from devices that can work poorly in darker-skinned individuals, according to a new study (Source: “Faulty oxygen readings delayed Covid treatments for darker-skinned patients, study finds,” Stat News, May 31).

Widely used pulse oximeters, which measure oxygen levels by assessing the color of the blood, have been under increasing scrutiny for racial bias because they can overestimate blood oxygen levels in darker-skinned individuals and make them appear healthier than they actually are. A 2020 study comparing oxygen levels measured by the devices with readings taken from “gold standard” arterial blood samples found pulse oximeters were three times less likely to detect low oxygen levels in Black patients than in white patients. Two months after that report, the Food and Drug Administration issued a safety communication alerting patients and clinicians that the devices could be erroneous in those with dark skin.

The new study, published in May in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that  the inaccuracies in oxygen measurement occurred at higher rates not only in Black patients, but also in Hispanic and Asian patients, compared to white patients. Those inaccuracies had real-world consequences. The study provided evidence that undetected low oxygen levels led to delays in Black, Hispanic and Asian patients receiving potentially lifesaving therapies such as the drugs remdesivir and dexamethasone, and in many cases, led to patients not receiving treatment at all.