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Well-known Wisconsin Children’s Doctor Pushes for New Law

Dr. Stuart Berger says a proposal to require that all newborns get a pulse oximetry test could help save lives.
April 2. 2013
Dr. Stuart Berger says a proposal to require that all newborns get a pulse oximetry test could help save lives.

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Heart defects are the most common birth defects, and a very simple test given to newborns could detect most of those problems. According to Dr. Stuart Berger, medical director of cardiology at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, the pulse oximetry test should be given to every newborn, but too often it isn't.

Dr. Berger deals with heart problems in newborns every day.

"It occurs on a frequency of about eight in one thousand births, and that's not to say all of those are critical or life-threatening, but of those, a percentage of them indeed are life-threatening, so it's very common," he said.

Dr. Berger remarked that the pulse oximetry test is non-invasive, inexpensive, and can potentially save a child's life.

Eight states have passed laws making the test mandatory for newborns, and such proposals are being considered in Wisconsin and 16 other states. Dr. Berger supports a law making the test mandatory.

"We feel it needs to be done, and if a law would help us make that happen, we certainly are in a position to do the education, the implementation, and collect the data, so we are certainly in favor of that," he declared.

Dr. Berger said that without the test, some newborns will go home appearing healthy, only to have serious complications and require emergency heart care soon after.

The health care community agrees that the test is important, the doctor said.

"We want to be in a position where our babies have the best likelihood of surviving, and surviving with good outcomes, and this is one more simple, non-invasive, inexpensive test that will allow us to do this."

According to the American Heart Association, other screening methods miss about 30 percent of critical congenital heart defects, and the pulse oximetry test does much better.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI