Objective In the context of an ongoing debate on the potential risks of hypoxemia and hyperoxemia, it seems prudent to maintain the partial arterial oxygen pressure (PaO2) in a physiological range during administration of supplemental oxygen. The PaO2 and peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) are closely related and both are used to monitor oxygenation status. However, SpO2 values cannot be used as an exact substitute for PaO2. The aim of this study in acutely ill and stable patients was to determine at which SpO2 level PaO2 is more or less certain to be in the physiological range. Methods This is an observational study prospectively collecting data pairs of PaO2 and SpO2 values in patients admitted to the emergency room or intensive care unit (Prospective Inpatient Acutely ill cohort; PIA cohort). A second cohort of retrospective data of patients who underwent pulmonary function testing was also included (Retrospective Outpatient Pulmonary cohort; ROP cohort). Arterial hypoxemia was defined as PaO2 < 60 mmHg and hyperoxemia as PaO2 > 125 mmHg. The SpO2 cut-off values with the lowest risk of hypoxemia and hyperoxemia were determined as the 95th percentile of the observed SpO2 values corresponding with the observed hypoxemic and hyperoxemic PaO2 values. Results 220 data pairs were collected in the PIA cohort. 95% of hypoxemic PaO2 measurements occurred in patients with an SpO2 below 94%, and 95% of hyperoxemic PaO2 measurements occurred in patients with an SpO2 above 96%. Additionally in the 1379 data pairs of the ROP cohort, 95% of hypoxemic PaO2 measurements occurred in patients with an SpO2 below 93%. Conclusion The SpO2 level marking an increased risk of arterial hypoxemia is not substantially different in acutely ill versus stable patients. In acutely ill patients receiving supplemental oxygen an SpO2 target of 95% maximizes the likelihood of maintaining PaO2 in the physiological range.