Uses and misuses of oxygen in hospitalized patients

Am J Med. 1992 Jun;92(6):591-5. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(92)90775-7.


Purpose: To document the use/misuse of oxygen therapy as compared with antibiotics in internal medicine inpatients. To determine whether the same care was being taken in the prescription and administration of both forms of therapy.

Patients: Ninety-six eligible patients at a university teaching hospital were entered into a study examining the use of oxygen. They were compared with 60 patients for whom antibiotics were prescribed.

Material and methods: Three hundred thirty consecutive newly admitted patients were screened for the presence of either (1) oxygen apparatus at the bedside, (2) physician orders for oxygen, or (3) oxygen orders noted in nursing kardex. Those meeting one of these three criteria were observed on up to four occasions over 48 hours following study entry. Similarly, patients were screened for medical orders or nursing medication kardex notation for antibiotics and were also observed for proper prescription and administration of medication. Procedural errors, determined by kardex audit and direct patient observation, were compared for the individuals with specific oxygen orders and those receiving antibiotics.

Results: Oxygen delivery apparatus was found in the room in 17 of 96 patients without it ever having been ordered by the physician or noted in the nursing kardex. In 27 of 96 patients, oxygen was noted in the nursing kardex and administered to patients without a physician order. There were no cases of antibiotic therapy without a physician order. Observations of 47 patients with specific orders for oxygen revealed the following errors: (1) physician order incorrectly transcribed to nursing kardex (16%), (2) flow meter off (34%), (3) oxygen delivery apparatus improperly worn (57%), (4) wrong fractional inspired oxygen concentration (58%). Improper transcription of antibiotic orders occurred on only one occasion (2%), and antibiotics were improperly administered in 5%. Arterial blood gas determinations preceded oxygen orders in 61%, whereas microbiologic cultures preceded antibiotic orders in 87% of the patients.

Conclusions: We conclude that oxygen therapy is neither prescribed nor administered with the same attention that is given to other drugs such as antibiotics. Oxygen prescription and/or delivery is associated with significantly greater error than that seen with antibiotics. Education of medical personnel should stress more prudent prescription and use of oxygen in hospitalized patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Protocols / standards
  • Drug Prescriptions / standards
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Health Services Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / standards
  • Internal Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Nursing Audit
  • Nursing Records / standards
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / standards
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Prescriptions / standards
  • Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Quebec


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents