An assessment of the accuracy of pulse oximeters

Anaesthesia. 2012 Apr;67(4):396-401. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2044.2011.07021.x. Epub 2012 Feb 11.


Peripheral pulse oximetry has become a core monitoring modality in most fields of medicine. Pulse oximeters are used ubiquitously in operating theatres, hospital wards, outpatient clinics and general practice surgeries. This study used a portable spectrometer (Lightman(®), The Electrode Co. Ltd., Monmouthshire, UK) to measure the emission spectra of the two light emitting diodes within the pulse oximeter sensor and to determine the accuracy of 847 pulse oximeters currently in use in 29 NHS hospitals in the UK. The standard manufacturing claim of accuracy for pulse oximeters is ± 2-3% over the range of 70-100% S(p)O(2). Eighty-nine sensors (10.5%) were found to have a functional error of their electrical circuitry that could cause inaccuracy of measurement. Of the remaining 758 sensors, 169 (22.3%) were found to have emission spectra different from the manufacturers' specification that would cause an inaccuracy in saturation estimation of > 4% in the range of 70-100% saturation. This study has demonstrated that a significant proportion of pulse oximeter sensors may be inaccurate.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Oximetry / methods
  • Oximetry / standards*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • United Kingdom