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    High altitude environments present unique medical treatment challenges. Medical providers often use small portable pulse oximetry devices to help guide their clinical decision making. A significant body of high altitude research is based on the use of these devices to monitor hypoxia, yet there is a paucity of evidence that these devices are accurate in these environments. We studied whether these devices perform accurately and reliably under true mountain conditions. Healthy unacclimatized active-duty military volunteers participating in mountain warfare training at 2100 m (6900 feet) above sea level were evaluated with several different pulse oximetry devices while in a cold weather, high altitude field environment and then had arterial blood gases (ABG) drawn using an i-STAT for comparison. The pulse oximeter readings were compared with the gold standard ABG readings. A total of 49 individuals completed the study. There was no statistically significant difference between any of the devices and the gold standard of ABG. The best performing device was the PalmSAT (PS) 8000SM finger probe with a mean difference of 2.17% and SD of 2.56 (95% CI, 1.42% to 2.92%). In decreasing order of performance were the PS 8000AA finger probe (mean ± SD, 2.54% ± 2.68%; 95% CI, 1.76% to 3.32%), the PS 8000Q ear probe (2.47% ± 4.36%; 95% CI, 1.21% to 3.75%), the Nonin Onyx 9500 (3.29% ± 3.12%; 95% CI, 2.39% to 4.20%), and finally the PS 8000R forehead reflectance sensor (5.15% ± 2.97%; 95% CI, 4.28% to 6.01%). Based on the results of this study, results of the newer portable pulse oximeters appear to be closely correlated to that of the ABG measurements when tested in true mountain conditions. Copyright © 2013 Wilderness Medical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


    Elliot M Ross, Michael J Matteucci, Matthew Shepherd, Matthew Barker, Lance Orr. Measuring arterial oxygenation in a high altitude field environment: comparing portable pulse oximetry with blood gas analysis. Wilderness & environmental medicine. 2013 Jun;24(2):112-7

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    PMID: 23434169

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