Hawaii Health Officials Want Mandatory Heart Defect Tests for Newborns

Flickr; Christina Rutz

Editor's Note: The investigative news website ProPublica recently reported that an inexpensive screening test has been credited for saving the lives of newborns. But 17 states don't require that test. It turns out Hawaii is one of them. Read ProPublica's report on our site today, too.

Hawaii is one of only 17 states that does not have a law that requires critical congenital heart defect screenings at birth.

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects faced by newborns in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can result in death or disability if not immediately detected.

But the screening, known as a pulse oximetry test, is inexpensive and noninvasive, involving little more than light sensors attached to a baby’s hands and feet to measure the oxygen levels in their blood.

Now, Hawaii lawmakers say they will consider legislation in the coming year to require the test.

In Sept. 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius added the screenings for congenital heart defects to the “Recommended Uniform Screening Panel” for newborns, which is a best practices guide for hospitals and birthing centers.

Starting with New Jersey, most states have taken action and have legislation in place so all babies are required to be screened for congenital heart defects before leaving the hospital.

While that's not the case in Hawaii, many of the state's largest hospitals perform the screening already. The same can't be said for rural hospitals on neighbor islands.

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