The patient's SPO2 was 81%, she had shallow rapid breathing and a heart rate of 135. I looked and noted her oxygen tank had run out. After replacement of the oxygen tank and cues for deep breathing, her saturation returned to 94%.
This got me wondering what we could do to help prevent patients from running out of oxygen when using a tank. Especially if the tank is attached to the back of a wheelchair where they're unable to see the dial. I first asked a nurse if we could place a sign that said "Check O2" on the back of the wheelchair. This could be a reminder for staff to check the tanks when walking by. That idea was nixed. Then I thought, "Why not make neon-colored oxygen tank covers so they are highly visible?" Those blue and black covers blend into the chair and are like background noise, barely noticeable.
Since I don't have the time and material to make the covers myself, I'll allow another manufacturer to do it. A warning system would also help, where the tank would issue a beep once the dial reaches the red mark. This would help the patient and staff become more aware of when it's time to change the oxygen tank. But it would also create more noise pollution in some facilities and staff may begin to ignore the beep when it becomes a regular occurrence.
Educating patients to be alert when oxygen is running low works to some extent but if a patient is confused or has memory deficits, education wouldn't work. Maybe a color-coded dot placed next to the patient's room and on his wheelchair could alert staff to become more diligent. One nurse told me, "We can't babysit patients all day to make sure their oxygen tanks are full." I agree that healthcare workers aren't able to stand around and monitor O2 tanks; however, this delves into a patient-safety issue and needs to be addressed. It seems to be a recurring problem at several facilities where I've worked and has yet to be figured out or discussed and addressed in regard to neglecting a patient's medical needs.