Pulse oximetry for perioperative monitoring

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Mar 17;2014(3):CD002013. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002013.pub3.


Background: This is an update of a review last published in Issue 9, 2009, of The Cochrane Library. Pulse oximetry is used extensively in the perioperative period and might improve patient outcomes by enabling early diagnosis and, consequently, correction of perioperative events that might cause postoperative complications or even death. Only a few randomized clinical trials of pulse oximetry during anaesthesia and in the recovery room have been performed that describe perioperative hypoxaemic events, postoperative cardiopulmonary complications and cognitive dysfunction.

Objectives: To study the use of perioperative monitoring with pulse oximetry to clearly identify adverse outcomes that might be prevented or improved by its use.The following hypotheses were tested.1. Use of pulse oximetry is associated with improvement in the detection and treatment of hypoxaemia.2. Early detection and treatment of hypoxaemia reduce morbidity and mortality in the perioperative period.3. Use of pulse oximetry per se reduces morbidity and mortality in the perioperative period.4. Use of pulse oximetry reduces unplanned respiratory admissions to the intensive care unit (ICU), decreases the length of ICU readmission or both.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (2013, Issue 5), MEDLINE (1966 to June 2013), EMBASE (1980 to June 2013), CINAHL (1982 to June 2013), ISI Web of Science (1956 to June 2013), LILACS (1982 to June 2013) and databases of ongoing trials; we also checked the reference lists of trials and review articles. The original search was performed in January 2005, and a previous update was performed in May 2009.

Selection criteria: We included all controlled trials that randomly assigned participants to pulse oximetry or no pulse oximetry during the perioperative period.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed data in relation to events detectable by pulse oximetry, any serious complications that occurred during anaesthesia or in the postoperative period and intraoperative or postoperative mortality.

Main results: The last update of the review identified five eligible studies. The updated search found one study that is awaiting assessment but no additional eligible studies. We considered studies with data from a total of 22,992 participants that were eligible for analysis. These studies gave insufficient detail on the methods used for randomization and allocation concealment. It was impossible for study personnel to be blinded to participant allocation in the study, as they needed to be able to respond to oximetry readings. Appropriate steps were taken to minimize detection bias for hypoxaemia and complication outcomes. Results indicated that hypoxaemia was reduced in the pulse oximetry group, both in the operating theatre and in the recovery room. During observation in the recovery room, the incidence of hypoxaemia in the pulse oximetry group was 1.5 to three times less. Postoperative cognitive function was independent of perioperative monitoring with pulse oximetry. A single study in general surgery showed that postoperative complications occurred in 10% of participants in the oximetry group and in 9.4% of those in the control group. No statistically significant differences in cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological or infectious complications were detected in the two groups. The duration of hospital stay was a median of five days in both groups, and equal numbers of in-hospital deaths were reported in the two groups. Continuous pulse oximetry has the potential to increase vigilance and decrease pulmonary complications after cardiothoracic surgery; however, routine continuous monitoring did not reduce transfer to an ICU and did not decrease overall mortality.

Authors' conclusions: These studies confirmed that pulse oximetry can detect hypoxaemia and related events. However, we found no evidence that pulse oximetry affects the outcome of anaesthesia for patients. The conflicting subjective and objective study results, despite an intense methodical collection of data from a relatively large general surgery population, indicate that the value of perioperative monitoring with pulse oximetry is questionable in relation to improved reliable outcomes, effectiveness and efficiency. Routine continuous pulse oximetry monitoring did not reduce transfer to the ICU and did not decrease mortality, and it is unclear whether any real benefit was derived from the application of this technology for patients recovering from cardiothoracic surgery in a general care area.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia Recovery Period
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / diagnosis*
  • Hypoxia / mortality
  • Monitoring, Intraoperative / methods*
  • Oximetry*
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic