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Neonatology. 2011;99(1):1-9. doi: 10.1159/000311216. Epub 2010 Jun 4.

It is time for routine neonatal screening by pulse oximetry.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco, Calif 94143, USA.


Most pediatric cardiologists believe that pulse oximetry helps to diagnose critical congenital heart disease in neonates who might otherwise be discharged from the newborn nursery undiagnosed. Some of these patients develop catastrophic cardiac and multi-system failure after the ductus closes and die or suffer severe morbidity. Nevertheless, pulse oximetry is not universally used in the newborn nursery. Some pediatricians believe that they can always detect these patients from physical findings, many believe that oximeters are unreliable, and others are concerned about costs of investigating false positive tests. Recent studies, however, show that even cardiologists miss critical congenital heart defects, modern oximeters are stable and reliable, and that the false positive rate is very low, lower than the false positive rate based on physical examination. The benefits probably exceed the cost, and evidence is provided to confirm this. There is no reason not to use pulse oximetry routinely in the newborn nursery.

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