Emergency physician: Get pulse oximeter to test blood oxygen level

Jan 28, 2022, 5:10 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 3:35 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — As we’ve discovered during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not so simple for people to know when they have COVID-19. And, even when they know they are sick, when should they seek medical help?

If you’ve just tested positive for COVID-19 with a home test or a PCR test, or you’re pretty sure that you’re sick with COVID-19 — what now?

“That’s a good question,” Dr. Wing Province, an emergency physician and medical director of Intermountain Park City Hospital, said during an online briefing this week. “I actually get that a lot from friends and family — texts in the middle of the night.”

He tells everyone who asks that question to get a pulse oximeter.

“One of those little cubes that you can put on your finger that tells you your oxygen level and your heart rate,” he said.

He recommends having that on hand to test your oxygen level when you think you may be sick.

“Really, the people who need to come into the emergency department are those who have severe disease. Of course, no one’s going to know that on their own; that’s what we’re here for,” he said.

Physicians use the pulse oximeter, too, to help them differentiate between those who have severe disease, and those with a milder, or moderate, case of COVID-19.

A pulse oximeter is simple to use. Slip it on your finger, wait a few seconds, and you’ll get a read out of your blood oxygen level and your pulse rate.

“If your oxygen levels are less than 90%, then I would say you should come to an emergency department, or call 911,” Province said.

Right now, as you might expect, pulse oximeters are in high demand. We found one at a pharmacy Friday after making a few phone calls. Another colleague ordered one online the day before, and expects to get it pretty quickly.

The one purchased in store cost $40. The pulse oximeter bought online cost about $20.

If you test positive for COVID-19 and your oxygen level is above 90%, Dr. Province recommends isolating at home, hydrating, and taking ibuprofen for a fever or body aches.

“Really, importantly, just don’t go out,” he said. “When you go out with COVID, you continue this pandemic. But when you stay at home, you stop the spread, and that’s really important.”

The doctor recommends getting a pulse oximeter for the medicine cabinets before it’s needed.

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Emergency physician: Get pulse oximeter to test blood oxygen level