Testing newborns for heart defects could soon be mandatory in AR

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT)- When you're a parent, you want to do everything you can to make sure your child is healthy. More than a dozen states, including Arkansas, hope to make testing newborns for heart defects a mandatory procedure. Doctors say this will help determine congenital heart disease in infants. But with the rising cost of healthcare, some argue the test is too expensive and it's not always accurate.

A mandatory test could soon be required in Arkansas to determine if your newborn has a heart defect. It's called oximetry testing. Doctor Roosevelt Gilliam with the Cardiology Associates says it's both easy and painless. A small clip is placed on the finger or, in a baby's case, the foot. "It measures the oxygen in your blood," said Gilliam.

Gilliam says a normal blood oxygen level is close to 100%. If the oxygen level is low, it could mean a more serious problem. "I think it's a focus we need for everyone, obviously the health of your baby leads to a healthier community," said Gilliam.

Gilliam says the test will help spot problems, but only serious heart defects, which he says are normally visible. For example, when the body doesn't have enough oxygen in the blood the skin will often have a bluish tint. Leaving the question, is the testing really even necessary to determine a problem? "Like you pointed out. If these diseases are that obvious, is there any evidence that doing this is going to pick them up in an earlier manner so you can intervene one day earlier versus two days," said Gilliam.

And then there's the cost, Gilliam says the testing wouldn't be more than a dollar per child. But the tests are not always accurate, which could lead to spending more money on follow-up testing that's not needed. And with health costs already a concern for many, a dollar here and a dollar there adds up, and that's not the only cost. "It sounds good. It feels good, but it may just be an additional cost how ever small, but the regulation of keeping up with the documentation that someone did this is not small," said Gilliam.

Gilliam says he would be interested to see more research done. And, he says it's something many doctors might already practice.

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