Purpose of review: The concept of using pulse oximetry as a screening method to detect undiagnosed critical congenital heart defects (CCHD) in asymptomatic newborns was first explored over 10 years ago. A number of studies were subsequently reported, which initially involved relatively small numbers of patients, low prevalence of CCHD and heterogeneous methodology. As a consequence, the majority of clinicians felt the case for routine pulse oximetry screening had not been proven.
Recent findings: In the last 3 years, four European studies reporting the test accuracy of routine pulse oximetry screening, and involving over 150 ,000 babies, have strengthened the argument. A systematic review and meta-analysis of almost 230 ,000 screened babies has also recently been published which reported high specificity, moderate sensitivity and a low false-positive rate. In addition, acceptability to parents and staff, cost-effectiveness and feasibility of implementing screening outside the research context have also been reported.
Summary: Pulse oximetry screening is a highly specific, moderately sensitive test, which is acceptable to parents and staff, likely to be cost-effective and fulfils the criteria for universal screening. Routine screening for CCHD using pulse oximetry is being increasingly supported and was added to the recommended uniform screening panel in the USA in 2011.