The FDA has been warned that flawed pulse oximeters may have led to more deaths than necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of these deaths were people of color.
The devices are placed on the fingertips and measure the levels of oxygen in the blood. On darker colored skin, the readings that they give may not be accurate. They may have shown healthy readings, but blood tests revealed that there was more cause for concern.
During the pandemic, this could have meant that people did not receive the treatment they needed as quickly as they might have done. Blood oxygen levels determined by the oximeters would have influenced decisions about medicines that were administered, and even which patients were given a hospital bed.
Calls are being made for greater regulation of these oximeters and wider testing of them before they are used to make critical decisions in terms of treatment. Part of this testing would include comparing the accuracy of the device for a range of different skin tones.