Fingertip test alerts French Covid patients if they need hospital

Cost of rental for oxygen monitors up to two weeks is fully reimbursed by the state

6 May 2021

Fingertip oxygen monitors are available to patients in France who have contracted Covid-19, allowing them to monitor their health at home and relieve pressure on the country's hospitals.

The rules for anyone who contracts Covid-19 are clear: anyone who is infected with the virus should self-isolate at home and stay safe while their body fights the illness.

But, how do patients displaying symptoms know if they should stay at home or go to the hospital?

The government announced at the end of April that the cost of renting finger pulse oximeters.

would be fully reimbursed with a prescription. The device allows patients to monitor their blood oxygen levels at home by attaching it to the fingertips. 

The Haute Autorité de santé recommends their use to monitor patients with Covid-19 because "the initial disease progresses insidiously, sometimes with 'silent hypoxemia'," (a lack of oxygen in the blood), which can lead to hospitalisation.

Who should get one

The HAS recommends using the device in the following cases:

  • Patients with respiratory symptoms
  • Patients aged 65 or over 
  • Patients with a comorbidity (such as respiratory diseases, diabetes, or obesity)

In these cases, an oximeter can be rented from a pharmacy for a week - the cost will be fully reimbursed, and the prescription can be renewed once.

How it works

Placed on the fingertip, the pulse oximeter measures oxygen saturation in the blood by means of a light beam passing through the skin. Monitors calculate how the light is diffused and use that to come up with results.

That is the clever stuff. In practical terms, patients can put the device on their fingers and wait for the results to appear on the screen. As long as oxygen saturation levels are between 95% and 100%, patients should stay at home. 

Levels below 90% indicate possible respiratory distress - in which case patients should call 15 or their GP.

Can you buy one?

Yes, they are also available to buy in many pharmacies and online - with prices ranging from €20 to €200. If you do buy one, make sure it has the CE logo and the ISO 80601-2-61 standard.

Do I need one? There's something similar on my smartwatch

Yes, some smartwatches or smartphones offer this feature, but so far no scientific study confirms their effectiveness compared to conventional devices to date. 

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Covid France: No more masks outside this summer, health minister hopes

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