The pulse oximeter is a small, clip-like device that attaches to a body part, like toes or an earlobe. It’s most commonly put on a finger, and it’s often used in a critical care setting like emergency rooms or hospitals. Some doctors, such as pulmonologists, may use it in office.
Pulse oximetry is a noninvasive method for monitoring a person's oxygen saturation. Peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO₂) readings are typically within 2% accuracy (within 4% accuracy in the worst 5% of cases) of the more desirable (and invasive) reading of arterial oxygen saturation (SaO₂) from arterial blood gas analysis. But the two are correlated well enough that the safe, convenient, noninvasive, inexpensive pulse oximetry method is valuable for measuring oxygen saturation in clinical use.
It can rapidly detect even small changes in how efficiently oxygen is being carried to the extremities furthest from the heart, including the legs and the arms.
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