Objective: To assess the potential cost savings of decreasing prehospital oxygen utilization by using pulse oximetry to identify those patients who do not require supplemental oxygen.
Methods: A prospective, controlled trial was performed comparing rates of oxygen utilization by paramedics with and without access to pulse oximetry. Consecutive patient encounters over a ten-week period were randomized by day of presentation. Pulse oximeters were made available on alternate days. On those days, patients whose oxygen saturations were less than 95% were treated with supplemental oxygen.
Results: The use of pulse oximeters incurred a saving of 0.14 "D"-size oxygen cylinders per call. For the authors' service, this translates to a potential saving of $2,324 (C)/vehicle/year.
Conclusion: For regions with patient demographics similar to the authors', the initial cost of providing paramedics with pulse oximeters may be offset by savings in oxygen consumption. A formula is provided to allow individual ambulance services to calculate the potential savings for their service.