Forehead thermometers miss fevers among Black patients, Emory researchers find

Forehead thermometers are not as accurate as oral thermometers in detecting fevers among hospitalized Black patients, according to a study led by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta. 

The retrospective study involved 4,375 adults admitted to Emory Healthcare hospitals between 2014 and 2021. The first pair of oral and temporal, or forehead, temperatures were measured within one hour of each other and recorded on the first day of hospitalization. 

Among Black patients, researchers found a 26 percent lower odds of detecting fevers when using forehead thermometers compared to oral thermometers. In white patients, there was little variation between temporal and oral thermometer readings, according to the findings published Sept. 6 in JAMA.

"This is an important finding because health systems routinely use fever cut-offs to alert or notify team members about care pathways, such as sepsis alerts to deliver timely triage and antibiotics" said Sivasubramanium Bhavani, MD, study author and assistant professor in the division of pulmonology, allergy, critical Care and sleep medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. "If fevers are going undetected, then alerts are not being activated. The differences in detection of fevers could lead to delays in antibiotics and medical care for Black patients.

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