Key messages

• While the principle upon which pulse oximetry is based is fairly simple, the design and implementation of a working pulse oximeter is difficult.

• Even when completed properly, the finished product falls far short of being able to measure accurately and display arterial oxygen saturation data on all patients under all conditions.

• With proper understanding of its operation and limitations, the pulse oximeter is the single most valuable tool available to the clinician for monitoring arterial oxygen saturation.

• This real-time monitor allows the clinician to detect, with only a few seconds delay, even a small reduction in the arterial oxygen saturation.

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