The research is clear: monitoring vital signs is the single most effective way to monitor your patient’s well-being and detect problems before they deteriorate.
It’s possible to monitor most vital signs by hand. In a busy clinical environment, though, using a vital signs monitor is the fastest and most accurate way to stay informed about your patient’s health status.
Are you wondering which medical devices you should choose to monitor vital signs? This article is for you. Read on to learn about the best medical monitoring tools and how they can help you get the best outcomes for your patients.
What Are Vital Signs?
Vital signs are the physiological indicators that give the most data about a patient’s health status. There are five traditional vital signs, including:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Respiratory rate
- Oxygen saturation
- Body temperature
These five indicators reflect the body’s most important systems: the cardiac and respiratory systems. In other words, they give a quick snapshot of your patient’s overall health.
They are also extremely sensitive to physical changes. This means that if a patient starts to deteriorate, you’ll see their vital signs change. If you are monitoring your patient’s vital signs carefully, you’ll be able to notice status changes before they affect your patient.
How to Monitor Vital Signs
Some vital signs can be monitored by hand. Others require specialized equipment.
Even if you can check a vital sign manually, using a specialized medical monitor is a better choice. It eliminates human error and gives more consistent readings.
Heart rate is the number of times that your patient’s heart beats per minute. For a healthy adult, a normal heart rate is between 60-100 bpm (beats per minute).
Heart rate is very sensitive to medical factors and can change from moment to moment. An elevated heart rate can indicate:
- Heart failure
- Low blood pressure
- Some medications
- Low blood volume or blood loss
- Increased pain levels
A low heart rate may indicate neurological problems. It’s also a common side effect of many cardiac and neurological medications.
Heart rate is one of the easiest vital signs to assess without medical devices. However, in a busy critical care context, you don’t always have the option to monitor your patient’s heart rate by hand. Choose an integrated patient monitor that tracks heart rate as well as other key vital signs.
Blood pressure is the amount of force that the patient’s blood exerts on the walls of their arteries. Blood pressure is expressed in milligrams of mercury (mmHg). Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg, although many variations are normal.
It is written as two numbers, with a larger number written above a smaller one. The top number is the patient’s blood pressure at the peak of the heartbeat cycle (also called the systolic blood pressure). The bottom number indicates the lowest level of blood pressure in the heartbeat cycle (diastolic blood pressure).
Chronic hypertension (high blood pressure) is common among older patients. However, a sudden blood pressure spike might indicate a stroke or cardiac event. Low blood pressure can indicate shock, hemorrhage, or heart failure.
Patients can have widely different baseline blood pressures. However, whatever a patient’s “normal” blood pressure reading is, a sudden blood pressure change is dangerous.
How to Assess Blood Pressure
It is possible to take a patient’s blood pressure manually with a stethoscope and a hand-pumped sphygmomanometer cuff.
However, manual blood pressure monitoring is time-consuming. It requires careful technique to get it right. It’s easier, faster, and more accurate to use a vital signs monitor.
As a clinician, you must be ready to notice and act on blood pressure changes immediately. Especially if your patient is in critical condition, you should use a device to continuously monitor your patient’s blood pressure.
Respiratory rate is the number of breaths that the patient takes every minute. The normal range is between 12-20 breaths per minute. Children have higher resting respiratory rates while very fit adults have lower ones.
An abnormal respiratory rate is a sensitive indicator of poor patient health, so it’s important to monitor this sign accurately. While respiratory rate is the easiest vital sign to measure without a machine, research shows that it’s also the most overlooked. Nurses and doctors often forget to check and record respiratory rate.
Using a monitor to continuously record respiratory rate keeps clinicians from forgetting to check it. It also gives a more accurate reading of this vital sign.
Body temperature normally falls between 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit. Though it cannot be monitored continuously, it does not fluctuate as quickly as the other vital signs. This means that it can be taken less frequently.
However, body temperature is still an important indicator of disease. High temperature indicates infection, and low temperatures can indicate critical shock. Both need fast treatment to protect the patient’s organs from secondary injury.
Most vital sign monitoring systems usually include a clinical thermometer. However, you can also purchase a stand-alone thermometer for the clinical setting.
Oxygen saturation measures how much oxygenated blood reaches the tissues. This is expressed in the percentage of red blood cells in the bloodstream that carries oxygen molecules. Normally, oxygen saturation should be 95-100%.
For oxygenated blood to reach your patient’s tissues, they must be breathing properly, with no airway problems. Their heart must be functioning with an effective rate and rhythm to keep the blood circulating.
Any problems in the heart or lungs will cause the oxygen saturation to fall steeply. This vital sign is crucial because it gives you a snapshot of your patient’s overall cardiac and respiratory functioning.
Oxygen saturation must be measured with a specialized device called a pulse oximeter. You can choose a stand-alone pulse oximeter or buy a vital sign monitor with integrated pulse oximeter capability.
In critical care, oxygen saturation is monitored continuously. That way, you’ll be able to catch changes in status before it’s too late.
Which Vital Sign Monitor Is Right for You?
Vital signs monitoring is crucial for every clinical situation. However, different monitors have different strengths. It’s important to determine which monitor meets the medical needs that you serve in your practice.
Choosing the right vital sign monitor gives your staff the best tools for their job. Ultimately, it leads to better care for your patients, and that leads to better patient outcomes.
Portable Vital Sign Monitors
If you’re a paramedic or field medic, you are taking care of patients in unstable, mobile situations. You may not need a comprehensive monitoring machine. You’ll need a vital sign monitor that:
- Is small and light
- Doesn’t have wires
- Gives you the most crucial vital sign readings quickly
- Is fast and accurate
Fortunately, there are battery-powered, mobile medical devices available. Choose one that offers a clear screen display so that you can quickly see all the vital sign information that you need.
Postanesthesia Vital Sign Monitors
Caring for patients in a postoperative recovery room requires special vital sign monitoring considerations.
As patients recover from anesthesia, their respiratory status often fluctuates. Make sure to choose a vital signs monitor that comes equipped to measure all the respiratory vital signs, including oxygen saturation, heart rate, and respiratory rate.
However, you should also monitor another key indicator of ventilation status: end-tidal carbon dioxide volume. This indicator tells clinicians how well the patient is exhaling, which indicates how well their respiratory system is functioning.
Some vital sign monitors have integrated end-tidal carbon dioxide monitoring. These medical devices are perfect for the postoperative recovery room.
Advanced Technology Vital Sign Monitors
A new feature of cutting-edge vital sign monitors is internet connectivity. The monitor connects wirelessly or via Ethernet to your hospital’s information system. This allows you to transfer your patient’s vital signs readings directly to their electronic health record without writing them down, eliminating human error.
Many new vital sign monitor models also offer touchscreen technology. This lets you give the monitor commands and adapt its settings intuitively, with no hidden buttons required.
Vital sign machines with advanced technology are ideal for technologically advanced clinics that want the fastest, most intuitive equipment for their staff.
Find the Vital Signs Monitor You Need
Finding the right equipment for your clinic matters — for your clinicians, staff, and most of all, for your patients. That’s why you should take the time to find the right medical device to monitor vital signs exactly the way your clinic needs you to. With this article, you’ll be able to choose among the many options and find the equipment that matches your practice.
When it’s time to choose your medical equipment, turn to Infinium Medical. Browse our wide range of vital signs monitors to find the medical device you need today.