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Pulse oximetry screening

02 February 2020
3 min read
Volume 28 · Issue 2
 Pulse oximetry screening is an accurate way of determining how much oxygen is in a newborn's blood stream
Pulse oximetry screening is an accurate way of determining how much oxygen is in a newborn's blood stream


George F Winter weighs in on pulse oximetry screening as an effective method of testing for critical congenital heart defects in newborns

Critical congenital heart defects (CCHDs) affect around 2 in 1 000 newborns, and babies with CCHD often have low blood oxygen concentrations, which can be measured by non-invasive pulse oximetry (PO) using a sensor placed on the newborn's hand or foot (Plana et al, 2018). The earliest reports of PO screening were published in 1995 (Valmari, 2007) and a Cochrane review of 436 758 participants from 19 studies showed that PO screening is highly specific, moderately sensitive and has a low false-positive rate, prompting the conclusion that ‘[c]urrent evidence supports the introduction of routine screening for CCHD in asymptomatic newborns before discharge from the well-baby nursery’ (Plana et al, 2018).

Yet a Public Health England ([PHE], 2019) patient information leaflet – last updated on 5 September 2019 – makes no mention of PO. An explanation is provided by the UK National Screening Committee (NSC), which advises ministers and the NHS in the four UK countries on population screening and helps to implement screening programmes.

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