Purpose: To determine the utility of routine triage pulse oximetry screening in emergency department (ED) patients.
Design: Prospective study using pulse oximetry to measure oxygen saturation of ED patients at triage. Saturation values were disclosed to physicians only after they completed medical evaluations and were ready to discharge or admit each patient. We measured changes in medical management initiated after disclosure of pulse oximetry values.
Setting and participants: The study included 14,059 consecutive patients presenting to triage at a university ED.
Measurements: Changes in select diagnostic tests: chest radiography, CBC count, spirometry, arterial blood gases, pulse oximetry, and ventilation-perfusion scans; treatments: antibiotics, beta-agonists, supplemental oxygen; and hospital admission and final diagnoses that occurred after disclosure of triage pulse oximetry values.
Results: Of 1,175 patients having triage pulse oximetry values less than 95%, physicians ordered repeat pulse oximetry on 159 (13.5%), additional chest radiography on 5.4%, CBC count on 3.1%, arterial blood gases on 2.9%, spirometry on 0.9%, and ventilation-perfusion scans on 0.3%. Physicians ordered 178 new therapies on 134 patients (11.4%), including supplemental oxygen for 6.5%, antibiotics for 3.9%, and beta-agonists for 1.8%. Thirty-five patients (3.0%) initially scheduled for hospital discharge were subsequently admitted. Physicians changed or added diagnoses in 77 patients (6.6%).
Conclusions: Providing physicians with routine triage pulse oximetry measurements resulted in significant changes in medical treatment of these patients.