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INTRODUCTION: The clinical importance of postoperative episodic hypoxemia is still unclear, and therefore largely under-studied. As a result, there is limited understanding of its relationship with early postoperative respiratory complications (PRC, defined as intubation within three days of surgery) and hospital resource utilization. MATERIALS AND METHODS: This single center study was performed using a retrospective observational design. We described population based definitions of desaturation from continuous SpO2 monitoring data captured in the post anesthesia care unit (PACU), namely median SpO2 in PACU, duration of desaturation below median, nadir desaturation, and length of oxygen therapy relative to PACU duration. These measures were evaluated against the occurrence of early PRC in logistic regression models. Measures that were independently associated with early PRC were accepted as the primary study exposures. Stratified logistic regression models were planned if significant interaction occurred with high risk surgical procedures. Models were adjusted by including several patient conditions, procedural, and anesthesia risk factors. Propensity matching on desaturation occurrence was planned to evaluate the relationship with postoperative resource utilization. RESULTS: Among 125,740 patients included in the univariate analyses, 351 patients (0.3%) developed early PRC. Nadir desaturation <89% [14.3% of patients; adjusted odds ratio 2.02; 95% CI 1.52, 2.68; p<0.001] and PACU oxygen therapy requirements greater than 60 min [adjusted odds ratio 1.92 (>60 min) to 3.04 (>90 min); p<0.001] were identified as independent predictors of early PRC occurrence. A modest interaction was observed between desaturation and higher surgical risk. Propensity matching for postoperative oxygen requirement was performed in 37,354 matched patients. Matched analysis demonstrated significant increase in day of surgery charges, respiratory charges, total charges, hospital length of stay, reintubation and use of invasive or non-invasive ventilatory support. CONCLUSIONS: In summary, we report that prolonged PACU oxygen therapy and nadir desaturation <89% in PACU as captured in a retrospective database are independently associated with early PRC. This study describes resource implications of PACU desaturation in a large academic medical center in North America.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Female, Humans, Hypoxia, Male, Oxygen Inhalation Therapy, Postoperative Complications, Respiratory Tract Diseases, Surgery Department, Hospital