NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A new law requires all New York hospitals to screen newborns for heart defects before they’re allowed to leave.

The measure, which took effect Monday, requires all birthing facilities to administer the test called pulse oximetry screening.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, the test could prevent many deaths in newborns.

The process involves taping a small sensor to a newborn’s foot as light is beamed at the foot to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. The same is done on the baby’s hand. The screening is painless, more effective than more common tests and some hospitals already use it.

If the numbers are low or aren’t within a few points of each other, it’s a sign something might be wrong with baby’s heart.

“That would then make us look for the reason. We would do a physical examination, do an electrocardiogram and then an ultrasound of the heart would be the best test to tell us if anything is going on inside the heart,” Dr. Daphne Hsu of Montefiore Medical Center said.

The one-minute procedure provides early detection of heart defects that could be addressed quickly by surgery, potentially saving babies.

The test can detect congenital heart disease, or deformities in the way the baby’s heart formed in the womb.

Newborn babies get screened for 30 or 40 conditions including jaundice and metabolic problems. The new law adds a test for congenital heart deformities to the list.

The newborns are screened when they’re just a little over 24 hours old before they go home, Gomez reported.

Early detection of congenital heart disease is very important, Gomez reported.

“The babies appear well and then suddenly get very sick. And by the time they get back to the hospital, many are really in extremis and die shortly thereafter,” said Dr. Deborah Campbell of Montefiore Medical Center.

The majority of congenital heart defects are not critical but those that are can often be surgically repaired or corrected.

The American Heart Association, which pushed for the law, says nearly one in every 100 babies born annually have a congenital heart defect. That translates to about 40,000 babies born in this country every year with congenital heart defects.

New York now joins about 30 other states that already require newborn screening for heart defects.

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