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What is a pulse oximeter and should I have one at home?

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A pulse oximeter is a little device that clips on to the end of your finger and measures your blood oxygen saturation.  It uses two wavelengths of light (*see next FAQ on iPhone apps) and magical algorithms to report a percentage.  Greater than 93% is good.  You’ve likely had your oxygen saturation measured many times in your doctor’s office during routine pre-visit “vital signs.”  

But these little devices can be finicky, especially when used on cold or small (<10-12 years old) fingers, or those with painted fingernails.  One also has to remain still for the device to capture a “good waveform,” which you can see as a bouncing column of LED’s on the display (if the LED’s aren’t bouncing, the reading is not a reliable measurement).  All this to say, if anything isn’t quite right, it can report a falsely low oxygen saturation which can worry the inexperienced user, and could lead to unnecessary trips to the ED or calls to strained doctor office phone lines.  

If you are comfortable using a pulse oximeter, though, I think they are a great additional tool to have when remotely consulting your doctor about if, or when, further evaluation are warranted.  But if you’re someone who gets anxious about changing the television input to get to the Roku, you may not want the potential worry or frustration of this particular tool, or its $50 price tag. (April 28, 2020)