State Enacts Newborn Screening

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
This year, New York State enacted a law that requires birthing facilities across the state to test newborns for congenital heart defects through the use of pulse oximetry. Pulse oximetry is an inexpensive and non-invasive test that measures a baby’s blood oxygenation levels. This law will help ensure that infants are screened before they leave the hospital. I was pleased be a sponsor of this bill in the Assembly.

Prior to this bill becoming law, many hospitals were already performing this test. Hospitals perform pulse oximetry using a small plastic sensor.  In the case of infants, the sensor is taped to the newborn’s foot.  The sensor beams red light through the foot to measure how much oxygen is in the blood.  If infants demonstrate low blood oxygenation levels a doctor is alerted that further testing is needed. Low levels could be symptoms of a heart defect. With older patients, the sensor is attached to the patient’s finger. In many hospitals, it is standard procedure to measure pulse oximetry.

Critical congenital heart defects (CCHDs) are the most common group of congenital malformations. They are one of the leading causes of infant death in the developed world. Critical congenital heart defects affect approximately seven to nine of every 1,000 babies in the U.S. and in Europe.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that CCHDs is the leading cause of infant death due to birth defects, and that about 4,600 babies born every year have critical CCHDs in the U.S. In 2012, the American Heart Association published a policy position in support of pulse oximetry screening in newborns.  According to the American Heart Association,  pulse oximetry screening before a baby is discharged from the hospital improved the total detection rate of congenital heart disease to 92%.

Early detection also improves outcomes for newborns.  If a heart defect is detected, doctors can sometimes treat the infant’s heart defect.  I’m pleased this was signed into law and I was pleased to be a co-sponsor of the bill.

This simple test will reduce unplanned hospital stays and possibly prevent death in newborns.

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