New research from South Africa shows that using a pulse oximeter to check oxygen levels after a Covid diagnosis really does save lives. For the study, 8,115 high-risk patients were given a pulse oximeter to use at home after Covid-19 was diagnosed. The study focused on the highest-risk patients, including older people, those who were pregnant or those with chronic illnesses like heart disease, hypertension or diabetes.
After a Covid diagnosis, the patients were given a pulse oximeter and received a follow-up call to make sure they were using it correctly. They were asked to record their oxygen saturation and heart rate twice a day, and instructed to call a doctor if the reading started to drop below 95 percent.
If the reading fell below 90 percent, they were instructed to go to the emergency room. And all the patients were told to seek emergency care if they had difficulty breathing, regardless of the number on the device.
The study group was then compared with about 30,000 patients in the general population who were seen by doctors across the country between March and October of 2020. During the study period, 544 people (out of 38,660 patients) died from Covid-19, including 49 in the study group.
But the risk of dying was 52 percent lower among the patients who had been instructed to monitor their oxygen at home. Based on the overall mortality rate, it was expected that 95 people in the study group would have died. But using a pulse oximeter appears to have saved the lives of 46 people.