Pulse oximetry in discharge decision-making: a survey of emergency physicians

CJEM. 2002 Nov;4(6):388-93. doi: 10.1017/s1481803500007880.


Objectives: Our primary objective was to describe the pulse oximetry discharge thresholds used by general and pediatric emergency physicians for well-appearing children with bronchiolitis and pneumonia, and to assess the related practice variability.

Methods: This mail-in survey was conducted in August and September 2001 and included the 281 active members of the Pediatric Emergency Medicine Section of the American College of Emergency Physicians. The survey consisted of 2 case scenarios of previously healthy, well-appearing children: a 2-year-old with pneumonia and a 10-month-old with bronchiolitis. Respondents were asked about their years of experience, teaching load, percentage of children in their practice, whether they currently have a written departmental guideline at their institution, and the lowest pulse oximetry reading that they would accept and still discharge the patient directly home.

Results: One hundred and eighty-two (65%) physicians answered the survey and met the inclusion criteria. The respondents' median oximetry value and interquartile range (IQR) for the pneumonia and bronchiolitis cases were 93% (92%-94%) and 94% (92%-94%) respectively. With the exception of the 3 physicians practising >1000 metres above sea level, the responses by subgroups were similar.

Conclusions: There does not yet exist a safe, clinically validated pulse oximetry discharge threshold. Emergency physicians from this study sample have a modest degree of practice variability in a self-reported pulse oximetry discharge threshold. Emergency physicians may use this data to compare their own practice with that reported by this group.