Vital Signs monitor
Edition: December 2004 - Vol 12 Number 12
Readers who took Latin in high school know that “vita” means “life.” From that Latin root comes our word “vital,” which means “of, relating to, or characteristic of life.” Hence, the term “vital signs” refers to those functions or processes that give a person life or indicate that life is present. Pulse, blood pressure and temperature are the most common, but pulse oximetry (which measures oxygen saturation in the blood) and respiration are often included. Vital signs monitors are instruments designed to measure and display all or some of these processes.
Hospitals have grown dependent on vital signs monitors, using them to continuously monitor patients in the ICU, ER, perioperative areas and other departments. But vital signs monitors and spot-check devices have important applications in the non-hospital setting as well, including the physician’s office, surgery center and long-term care facility.
Vital signs monitors are defined as units that measure vital signs either continuously or at predetermined intervals. They allow the caregiver to put the blood pressure cuff on the patient, for example, and program it to take the blood pressure at predetermined intervals. The caregiver can then leave the patient. Alarms alert the caregiver if the patient’s vital signs fall outside certain parameters. For these reasons, vital signs monitors are ideal for acute-care settings.
Vital signs spot-check devices, on the other hand, are meant to be used by the clinician in direct contact with the patient. The caregiver takes the blood pressure or temperature, for example, then removes the device. Spot-check devices are frequently found in the doctors’ office.
All vital signs monitors and spot-check devices check temperature and blood pressure with accuracy and speed. The time needed for a temperature reading can range from four to seven seconds, depending on the technologies used in the monitors.
Regarding measurement of blood pressure, vital signs monitors and spot-check devices are believed to offer more precise and accurate measurements than traditional, manual methods. When taken manually, blood pressure readings are dependent on how quickly the caregiver bleeds down the cuff, the quality of the stethoscope and even the quality of the caregiver’s hearing. The accuracy of the traditional blood pressure reading is also dependent on the size of the cuff used. An improperly sized cuff can lead to false readings. In fact, many doctors’ offices have just one cuff for all patients.
Pulse oximetry is being employed with increasing frequency in doctors’ offices. When measured in conjunction with blood pressure and pulse and respiration rates, pulse oximetry can give the clinician valuable information about the patient’s cardiovascular and respiratory functions. Typically, pulse oximetry sensors are reusable. However, some physicians prefer disposable ones for purposes of infection control.
If the vital signs monitor and spot-check device has a direct competitor, it is tradition: That is, the insistence on the part of nurses or other caregivers on manually taking temperatures, blood pressures, pulse rates and etc. using stand-alone devices. But in the face of such resistance, sales reps can offer four selling points.
The first is the accuracy of automated readings. With a monitor or spot-check device, the doctor can feel confident in the readings taken on his patients month after month. That’s important, because doctors make treatment decisions based on slight differences in vital signs readings.
The second point is a combination of efficiency and speed. Customers are looking for quick, easy-to-use devices. They want to move patients through their offices quickly and efficiently. With vital signs monitors and spot-check devices, caregivers can take multiple vital signs measurements simultaneously. And there’s no more, “Who took off with the thermometer?”
The third selling point is the potential to deliver better patient care. A monitor or spot-check device can free up the nurse or other caregiver to talk to and observe the patient.
The fourth point is cost. It may be difficult for a physician to see the benefit of the device, because of the initial out-of-pocket cost of the equipment. But the productivity and reduction of medical errors can’t be ignored. Attributes of the device, such as accuracy, timesavings, repeatability and durability, are coupled with years of use and little maintenance.
Customers who have planned to go paperless are particularly attracted to vital signs monitors and spot-check devices, because they eliminate paper charting. A practice management software form is automatically populated when data is transferred using a cable plugged into the computer.