By Mike Fratantoro

Image of pulse oximeter.

Patient monitoring technology is essential in every phase of treatment across health care. Pulse oximetry, in particular, has seen increased attention recently as the market has responded to the emphasis for efficient and cost-effective home monitoring solutions. In addition, the technology’s application as a diagnostic screening test for congenital heart defects in newborns has catapulted it into the media spotlight as state legislative bodies across the nation consider its uniform benefits. 

In this issue, RT Magazine spoke with Yvonne Leonard, Group Product Manager at Nonin Medical Inc, who discussed the current technology and developments in the pulse oximetry market. 

: The patient monitoring market, including pulse oximetry, has been steadily increasing over the last several years. What forces do you believe are driving these increases?

Leonard: The increase in incidence and diagnosis of chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD certainly plays a part; and the shift in health care moving from an acute care model to the home. There is an emphasis on managing and monitoring patients in their home, and keeping them out of the hospital.

RT: Tell us about your company’s most recent pulse oximetry technology. What are your product innovations focused on?

May Market_Leonard120
Yvonne Leonard

Leonard: We are looking at the continuum of care from hospital to home and developing products that provide accurate monitoring for actionable decision making. In the home environment that may be a patient who has worked with his physician or respiratory therapist to titrate his supplemental oxygen when exercising. We work with telemonitoring companies to develop oximeters that transmit readings to a monitoring hub where a care team can review and intervene if needed. We are continually looking at ways to provide form and function to make monitoring convenient and accurate regardless of how it is being used—from a patient in a bed to a mountain climber.

RT: How are “home use” oximeters—both prescription and over-the-counter devices—influencing the pulse oximetry market? Can this technology be useful for hospitals and practitioners seeking to reduce costs?

Leonard: First, there is no such thing as an over-the-counter oximeter. Oximeters are prescription medical devices or not medical devices at all. A prescription oximeter is cleared by the FDA and must provide proof of its performance, safety, and effectiveness. An oximeter that is a health and wellness or sports enthusiast device, not a medical device, does not have to prove anything; unfortunately, many do not understand this. Clinicians using internet oximeters are not using medical devices that are regulated by the FDA, so there is no scrutiny regarding any of the claims that are made. Reputable manufacturers should be able to provide purchasers with test data that supports the performance claims they make. 

Based on research we conducted in 2012, physicians and respiratory therapists told us they would prefer that patients get a prescription device. Getting a prescription means that clinician and patient are working together and can set targets for SpO2 and heart rate and action plans for what to do if their numbers are not at the set targets.

RT: Pulse oximetry has been getting significant legislative and media attention recently as a screening device for congenital heart defects in newborns. What are your thoughts on its use as a diagnostic for newborns? What effects could state laws requiring the test have on the market? 

Leonard: It is exciting that states are adopting the screening of newborns for congenital heart defects so that these issues are being caught early and can be addressed. Oximetry is a standard parameter monitored in hospital settings, so it will perhaps mean additional patients will be monitored due to the new laws. We have not quantified this opportunity in terms of market growth.

RT: What does the future hold for pulse oximetry? Can it play a role in the growth of the remote patient monitoring market? 

Leonard: We see home monitoring as an area of growth. This monitoring will need to cover the spectrum of patients being monitored remotely by a health care team and patients self-monitoring under the guidance or care plan they have developed in conjunction with their physician or respiratory therapist. It is important that everyone knows what to do with the numbers. We are actively working on products that will meet the spectrum of home monitoring needs. RT

Mike Fratantoro is managing editor for RT. For further information, contact [email protected].