Pulse oximetry screening

In newborns, pulse oximetry screening checks for signs of congenital (present at birth) heart defects, some critical, that may otherwise go undetected. Our Herma Heart Institute is a national leader in efforts encouraging legislation for all newborns in Wisconsin and the country to have access to pulse ox screening.

Pulse ox screening measures the amount of oxygen in the blood with a simple, quick, painless, noninvasive, and inexpensive test. Pulse ox screening involves taping a small sensor (similar to an adhesive bandage) to the finger or toe. Results can be seen in less than a minute, but can have life-long impact.

Why is pulse ox screening so important?

Screening newborns using pulse ox has advantages, including:

  • It is simple: The noninvasive test provides a measurement of blood oxygen levels within 30 to 60 seconds.
  • It promotes early detection: Early detection of CHD leads to early treatment, better results for families and lower overall health care costs.
  • It saves lives: If a baby’s doctor is alerted to a potential problem the baby is referred to pediatric cardiologists who specialize in treating babies with CHD.

What is congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease is the most common serious birth defect that affects approximately 1 in 125 newborns in the United States each year. Some congenital heart diseases are critical and require treatment within the first days or weeks of life. Current methods for detection of CHD include prenatal ultrasound and physical examinations. These screenings alone identify less than half of all cases, and critical heart defects are often missed during routine exams performed prior to the newborn being discharged.

In Wisconsin, a little more than 85 percent of babies currently receive pulse ox screening before they go home from the hospital. Since the state does not mandate this test, some babies never get the opportunity to be screened. Children's Wisconsin aims to have 100 percent of babies born in Wisconsin be tested for CHD with pulse ox screening. All babies born at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin’s Birth Center, located at Children’s Wisconsin, undergo pulse oximetry screening before discharge.

Saving lives through pulse ox federal research grant

In 2012, Children's Wisconsin Research Institute and the University of Wisconsin received a three-year federal grant, known as the Wisconsin Screening Hearts In Newborns (SHINE) project, to review the effectiveness and cost of implementing the pulse ox screening in all birthing hospitals, centers, and home deliveries. Data collected from this study will provide data on the pulse ox screening's impact for early detection of CHD in babies born in Wisconsin. Herma Heart Institute physicians and staff are committed to translational research programs that advance state-of-the-art pediatric health care.

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