The use of pulse oximetry has become commonplace in today’s healthcare. Most of us have experienced having a small clip placed on a finger and a corresponding heart rate and oxygen percentage showing in digital form. This technology is being used everywhere from the physician’s office to intensive care units.
You may be surprised to learn that this technology has been around for only about 40 years and generally available for the last 30 or so. It has quickly become a routine vital sign in many levels of patient care, but does it really tell us how a patient is breathing?
The gold standard — EtCO2
To truly measure how well a patient is breathing, or ventilating, the measurement of end-tidal carbon dioxide (EtCO2) is rapidly becoming the gold standard. EtCO2 assesses the air movement in and out of the lungs and the lungs’ ability to clear carbon dioxide.
In healthy lungs, the brain responds to increasing or decreasing levels of carbon dioxide by increasing or decreasing the rate of breathing. Patients who have asthma, COPD, CHF, and other disease processes may well be able to inhale oxygen and have an adequate pulse ox reading. However, they may have difficulty in exhaling completely.
The result is an increased EtCO2 and, potentially, respiratory failure.
A better assessment of respiratory status
The EtCO2 monitor has become a valuable tool in EMS, acute care, and emergency rooms, enabling healthcare providers to truly assess a patient’s respiratory status. By reading the waveform of the EtCO2 monitor, providers can more clearly determine the cause of the respiratory compromise and receive real-time feedback on how well treatments are working.