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Advanced Uses of Pulse Oximetry for Monitoring Mechanically Ventilated Patients

Tusman, Gerardo MD; Bohm, Stephan H. MD; Suarez-Sipmann, Fernando PhD

doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000001283
Technology, Computing, and Simulation: Special Article

Pulse oximetry is an undisputable standard of care in clinical monitoring. It combines a spectrometer to detect hypoxemia with a plethysmograph for the diagnosis, monitoring, and follow-up of cardiovascular diseases. These pulse oximetry capabilities are extremely useful for assessing the respiratory and circulatory status and for monitoring of mechanically ventilated patients. On the one hand, the key spectrography-derived function of pulse oximetry is to evaluate a patient’s gas exchange that results from a particular ventilatory treatment by continuously and noninvasively measuring arterial hemoglobin saturation (SpO2). This information helps to maintain patients above the hypoxemic levels, leading to appropriate ventilator settings and inspired oxygen fractions. However, whenever higher than normal oxygen fractions are used, SpO2 can mask existing oxygenation defects in ventilated patients. This limitation, resulting from the S shape of the oxyhemoglobin saturation curve, can be overcome by reducing the oxygen fraction delivered to the patient in a controlled and stepwise manner. This results in a SpO2/FIO2 diagram, which allows a rough characterization of a patient’s gas exchange, shunt, and the amount of lung area with a low ventilation/perfusion ratio without the need of blood sampling. On the other hand, the photoplethysmography-derived oximeter function has barely been exploited for the purpose of monitoring hemodynamics in mechanically ventilated patients. The analysis of the photoplethysmography contour provides useful real-time and noninvasive information about the interaction of heart and lungs during positive pressure ventilation. These hemodynamic monitoring capabilities are related to both the assessment of preload dependency—mainly by analyzing the breath-by-breath variation of the photoplethysmographic signals—and the analysis of arterial impedance, which examines the changes in the plethysmographic amplitude, contour, and derived indexes. In this article, we present and describe these extended monitoring capabilities and propose a more holistic monitoring concept that takes advantage of these advanced uses of pulse oximetry in the monitoring of ventilated patients. Today’s monitors need to be improved if such novel functionalities were to be offered for clinical use. Future developments and clinical evaluations are needed to establish the true potential of these advanced monitoring uses of pulse oximetry.

Published ahead of print May 13, 2016.

From the *Department of Anesthesia, Hospital Privado de Comunidad, Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Swisstom AG, Landquart, Switzerland; Department of Surgical Sciences, Section of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, Hedenstierna Laboratory, University Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden; and §Department of Critical Care Medicine, CIBERES, CIBER de Enfermedades Respiratorias, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid, Spain

Published ahead of print May 13, 2016.

Accepted for publication January 25, 2016.

Funding: None.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Reprints will not be available from the authors.

Address correspondence to Gerardo Tusman, MD, Department of Anesthesia, Hospital Privado de Comunidad, Córdoba 4545, 7600 Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Address e-mail to

© 2017 International Anesthesia Research Society
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