A new study, published by The Journal of the American Medical Association on May 31, revealed that pulse oximeters overestimated the blood oxygen levels in Black, Hispanic, and Asian COVID-19 patients.
Pulse oximeters are devices that attaches to the finger to measure how much oxygen the lungs and heart are sending to the body. Light beams are used to measure pulse rate and oxygen saturation of the blood.
Due to the pulse oximeter’s faulty nature, people of color were more likely to receive delayed Covid-19 treatment that would have reduced hospitalizations and death.
Co-author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine Tianshi David Wu told Stat news: “These are likely patients who were seen in emergency rooms and sent home. There are patients that probably should have had these therapies, and the majority were Black patients.”
For the study, the data analyzed was from more than 7,000 patients who were seen in the emergency departments or admitted at one of the hospitals in Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Health System. It found that more than 25 percent of them — the majority of which were people of color — needed Covid therapies before the pulse oximeter surmised how much care they needed.
Black patients were 29 percent less likely than white patients to have their needs recognized by the devices. In addition, Hispanic patients were 23 percent less likely to have this need met compared to white patients.
Assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Thomas Valley also explained to Stat News that doctors wondered about the disparity in Covid deaths when it came to marginalized folks.
“We’ve been searching for reasons Black and Hispanic people were more likely to die early in the pandemic,” he said. “This is pretty depressing that we had treatments available, many of those treatments tied to oxygen levels. We were recommending that all the time, ‘If your O2 levels are not low, don’t come to the hospital,’” he said. “We don’t know how much harm that caused.”