With modern advances in technology, the days of poking and pricking in order to measure blood oxygen are long gone. Since the mid 1970s, the pulse oximeter has existed to provide doctors and nurses with an easy way to monitor a patient’s blood oxygen level without the pain and discomfort of drawing blood.
The use of the devices isn’t just limited to hospitals, however. Thanks to advances in technology, companies can make the devices cheaper and smaller, meaning doctors can take advantage of the device during in-patient and in-office procedures. The pulse oximeter industry boasted sales of over $201 million in 2006, and that number is expected to climb all the way to $310 million per year by 2013, according to an industry report by Frost & Sullivan.
Even the video game industry has gotten in on the craze. Nintendo has developed a pulse oximeter as part of its Vitality Sensor for use with its “Wii Fit” system. True to form, this accessory performs all the necessary functions of a regular pulse oximeter and tracks your pulse and blood oxygen levels and stores the results in your system for you to keep track of. The company clearly states that the device is not to be used as an actual medical device, but strictly for entertainment.
But while the market for pulse oximeters continues to grow, it’s important for doctors and health care leaders to recognize the limitations with the handy gadgets found in offices and hospitals around the world. For example, patients with high methemoglobins will give off a reading of 85 percent blood oxygen level, even though the actual oxygen saturation level may be widely different. The device shouldn’t be used as a diagnostic tool alone, but as a monitoring device as part of overall treatment.