Designing with our end users in mind
December 02, 2022
A study this summer came out from Harvard Medical School that “Racial disparities in care [have been] tied to differences in pulse oximeter performance” (link: https://hms.harvard.edu/news/skin-tone-pulse-oximetry)
Briefly, they found that pulse oximeters may have contributed to different levels of medical care because the devices haven’t taken into account different users’ skin tones. Pulse oximeters measure the passage of light through skin to measure blood oxygen saturation (SpO2), which can show how well a patient is breathing. But passage of light is affected by the color of a patient’s skin. Patients all have different colors of skin (dictated by the natural amount of melanin within), which was shown to affect the ability of pulse oximeters to measure SpO2. As a result, the study found that “Black, Hispanic, and Asian patients treated in intensive care units had greater discrepancies between blood saturation levels detected using pulse oximeters levels versus levels detected in blood samples and received less supplemental oxygen than white patients.”
I was impressed with how quickly the body of very impressive skin-inspired materials research has grown at MRS. I was happy to hear that this study by Harvard Medical School was presented in a couple of talks, highlighting the importance of designing our materials in close conjunction with considerations close to end-user applications. Keep innovating onwards everyone, for everyone.