A digital pulse oximeter is a medical device that is used to measure the amount of oxygen in a person’s bloodstream. It can be used on anyone from a newborn baby to an adult of any age. All digital pulse oximeters have a sensor that is attached to the patient’s body, usually to a toe or fingertip – a newborn most likely will have it placed on the foot.
The sensor looks either like a soft clothespin or two small, round metal and plastic dots that are taped to the skin of a patient. Each sensor contains red and infrared wavelengths that pass across the sensor. The clothespin-type device is attached to a machine that displays the oxygen level and pulse rate. This device can be attached to a patient for an unlimited amount of time.
First developed in 1935, the oximeter has been improved upon ever since. In 1974, the digital pulse oximeter was invented by two bioengineers, and was first sold and distributed in 1981. It is made by several medical device companies and is distributed throughout the world.
Before the digital pulse oximeter was invented, arterial blood gasses (ABG) were the only way to measure a patient’s blood oxygen level. Arterial blood gasses were obtained by inserting a needle into a patient’s artery to obtain a blood sample. This process was lengthy due to the amount of time that was required for the lab to process the sample. Without the proper supply of oxygen, brain damage can begin in five minutes and brain death begins in 10 to 15 minutes. The digital pulse oximeter provides almost instantaneous ABG information, thereby eliminating the laborious process of years past.
Digital pulse oximeters are used on patients during surgery, in emergency departments, intensive care units, cardiac care, and other parts of the hospital. Primary care doctors and some specialists use it in their offices to check patient’s oxygen levels. Pilots use it during flight in unpressurized aircraft. Digital pulse oximeters can only measure a person’s oxygen level; they cannot measure how a person’s body uses the oxygen that is available.
The world’s first bluetooth-enabled fingertip pulse oximeter was introduced in 2009. This device allows medical staff to monitor a patient's oxygen level from remote locations. It also allows patients to monitor their oxygen levels through online medical records systems.