Blood oxygen monitors miss concerning COVID-19 symptoms more often in patients of color

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Photo by Jon Akira Yamamoto/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Blood oxygen monitors said that hospitalized Asian, Black, and Hispanic COVID-19 patients had higher blood oxygen levels than they actually did, according to a new study. Oxygen levels are an important indicator of how serious someone’s case of COVID-19 is and what medications they’re eligible for — and that overestimation meant that it took longer for Black and Hispanic patients to get necessary treatment.

Pulse oximeters, the standard way clinics and hospitals measure blood oxygen, work by sending red and infrared light through the fingertip and measuring the amount that’s reflected back. (Hemoglobin, the protein in blood that carries oxygen, absorbs more infrared light when it’s carrying oxygen). For years, studies have shown that…

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