Background: The authors describe the effect of pulse oximetry monitoring on the frequency of unanticipated perioperative events, changes in patient care, and the rate of postoperative complications in a prospective randomized study.
Methods: The study included 20,802 surgical patients in Denmark randomly assigned to be monitored or not with pulse oximetry in the operating room (OR) and postanesthesia care unit (PACU).
Results: During anesthesia and in the PACU, significantly more patients in the oximetry group had at least one respiratory event than did the control patients. This was the result of a 19-fold increase in the incidence of diagnosed hypoxemia in the oximetry group than in the control group in both the OR and PACU (P < 0.00001). In the OR, cardiovascular events were observed in a similar number of patients in both groups, except myocardial ischemia (as defined by angina or ST-segment depression), which was detected in 12 patients in the oximetry group and in 26 patients in the control group (P < 0.03). Several changes in PACU care were observed in association with the use of pulse oximetry. These included higher flow rate of supplemental oxygen (P < 0.00001), increased use of supplemental oxygen at discharge (P < 0.00001), and increased use of naloxone (P < 0.02). The rate of changes in patient care as a consequence of the oximetry monitoring increased as the American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status worsened (P < 0.00001). One or more postoperative complications occurred in 10% of the patients in the oximetry group and in 9.4% in the control group (difference not significant). The two groups did not differ significantly in cardiovascular, respiratory, neurologic, or infectious complications. The duration of hospital stay was a median of 5 days in both groups (difference not significant). An equal number of inhospital deaths were registered in the two groups. Questionnaires, completed by the anesthesiologists at the five participating departments, revealed that 18% of the anesthesiologists had experienced a situation in which a pulse oximeter helped to avoid a serious event or complication and that 80% of the anesthesiologists felt more secure when they used a pulse oximeter.
Conclusions: This study demonstrated that pulse oximetry can improve the anesthesiologist's ability to detect hypoxemia and related events in the OR and PACU and that the use of the oximeter was associated with a significant decrease in the rate of myocardial ischemia. Although monitoring with pulse oximetry prompted a number of changes in patient care, a reduction in the overall rate of postoperative complications was not observed.