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Emergency Medical Equipment: Handheld vs. Fingertip Pulse Oximeters

Pulse oximeters are one of the most essential medical accessories for every emergency department. Not only are they very useful for assessing a patient’s vital signals, but they will also allow you to check whether the patient needs any support breathing. But with the market nowadays offering a bunch of different oximeters, it can be an overwhelming task to choose the proper one that will ease paramedics’ jobs. This is why we’ve compared the two most popular types and put together a couple of other useful tips for choosing the right pulse oximeter.

Handheld vs. Fingertip Pulse Oximeters

When you visit a medical equipment store, you’ll come across a bunch of different types of pulse oximeters. At this point, know that handheld and fingertip pulse oximeters are the most commonly chosen ones. However, these two types are not equally convenient for emergency situations.

Handheld pulse oximeters are one of the most popular types used for obtaining pulse oximetry measurements. These oximeters consist of a separate reusable sensor on the end of the cable that is clipped onto the finger while the other end is plugged into the saturation monitor. 

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Fingertip pulse oximeters are the smaller and more compact version of handheld ones. These oximeters don’t contain any cables that should be clipped or plugged, but you only need to place your finger inside the oximeter’s opening where the sensor is. 

And while many paramedics are sceptical about fingertip oximeter’s accuracy and technology due to their small nature, know that this is very wrong. In fact, the first fingertip oximeter was originally designed for intensive professional use by hospital departments, emergency medics, military doctors and many other first responder kits. 

And not only are fingertip oximeters more affordable than handheld tabletop units, but they’re also portable and very convenient for situations where the emergency nature doesn’t allow using tabletop units. Their growing demand for emergency healthcare, as well as a home application, made brands and manufacturers incorporate some advanced features such as rechargeable batteries, larger data storage capacity and audible alarms, regardless of their compact nature.

Levels of Accuracy

Accuracy is considered one of the most important factors in any emergency equipment, and pulse oximeters aren’t an exception at all. Incorrect oxygen measurements will lead you to wrong interpretation and therefore to give a wrong on-spot treatment. 

However, not a device’s accuracy can be checked and determined when purchasing. This is why it’s best to check online reviews for the brand and the product. Also, some more advanced units will feature a warning light which’s purpose is to indicate whether there’s interference or inaccurate reading. This will help you determine whether the oxygen levels of your patient are low or your pulse oximeter is malfunctioning. 



Advanced pulse oximeters will give out an audible sound to alert paramedics that the patient suffers from low oxygen saturation. This can be very useful for patients that don’t have a medical background and for emergency situations when there’s more than only one patient.


To ensure the quality, as well as the accuracy of a specific pulse oximeter device, you can also check if it’s certified by specific organizations before you make your purchase. Organizations that certify the quality and standards for oximeters are FDA, RoHS, and CE.


A good pulse oximeter will feature a very simple interface that will allow you to turn the unit on and choose the right settings in situations when you need to react fast. Also, don’t forget to pay attention to the device’s screen. One that isn’t enough bright or features specific screen colours and size can make a huge difference in reading the displayed data. This is why pulse oximeters for emergency departments should be picked with displays that every member can read without any trouble.

Durability and Battery Lifespan

Pulse oximeters for home use aren’t as rugged and don’t feature battery lifespan as oximeters intended for emergency medical departments. Therefore, pulse oximeters designed for paramedical use feature either disposable or rechargeable batteries with a very long lifespan. This is due to the emergencies’ nature of not being able to use plug-in devices, as well as for patients that will require continuous oxygen saturation readings.

Other Essential Emergency Medical Equipment 

Except for pulse oximeter units, paramedics require other useful EMS supplies and equipment in their kits. For instance, paramedics should own at least one medication storage box or case where they’re going to keep emergency medications such as the ones for postpartum hemorrhage, anaphylaxis, high blood pressure, emergency cardiac drugs, painkillers, numbing agents etc.

Except for a medication storage case, paramedics should have a ready first aid kit that besides plasters, gauzes and bandages should include a stethoscope, a blood pressure device, a glucose testing kit, forehead thermometers etc. Also, some of the emergency situations will require on-spot compressing with tourniquets or trauma dressings. For these situations, it’s also useful to have a pair of trauma shears and an emergency blanket to cover the patient.

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Except for compression bleeding wounds, it’s not uncommon to have a patient suffering from skin injuries such as burns, abrasions, bruises, swelling or insect bites. For this purpose, it’s always best to have a hydro-gel dressing that delivers a cool and soothing effect and reduces the risk of hypertrophic scars.

Finally, don’t forget that an emergency can occur throughout any period of the day, and it can be very useful to have a convenient headlamp that will light up your view during the night or for low visibility settings. 


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