Vitals are Vital to Patient Health

There are fewer indicators of overall health and wellness than the state of a person’s vital signs. Whether they are collected routinely during a physical examination in a doctor’s office, or they are taken at the scene of an automobile accident, vital signs are the gateway to how a person’s body is reacting in a given moment. Sometimes, people say they feel fine, but their vital signs may reveal a different story. Paramedics, first responders, first aiders, nurses, doctors, and other health practitioners use vital signs as a benchmark for a patient’s status.

What are Vital Signs and What Do They Include?

The type of vital signs that are recorded vary amongst health practitioners. For example, if a first responder is responding to an automobile accident on the highway, they might not have special equipment that is necessary to read vital signs, such as pulse oximetry. But they can take a pulse and record the number of respirations the patient is breathing in and out. Here is a list of vital signs that are typically taken manually by a health practitioner without any electronic equipment.


  • First responders, first aiders, and other responsive health practitioners will almost always search for a pulse on patient; whether they are conscious or unconscious. The pulse represents how fast or slow, strong or weak the heart is beating and provides valuable information to the first responder and the doctors or nurses who will eventually interact with that patient.

Blood Pressure

  • Blood pressure is recorded during a first responder incident with a sphygmomanometer (BP cuff), and a stethoscope. This information is used to determine any stress on the heart and how strong the heart is beating. It can indicate a drop in blood volume, and it can indicate the presence of shock in a patient.


  • Checking the rate at which a patient is breathing and how difficult or easy that breathing is, is important to a patient’s overall health. Shallow breaths or deep breaths mean different things, and first responders can use this information to help determine underlying injuries.


  • The body’s core temperature can change when a patient is suffering from an infection or illness. Temperature is regularly checked to ensure the “situation” has not gotten worse, along with the blood pressure and other vital signs.
  • In a clinical setting, or if a more advanced first responder, such as a paramedic arrives on the scene of an accident, they will have access to electrical equipment that will measure different vital signs through probes and pads that will be placed on the body. These machines typically measure the following vital signs.

Pulse Oximetry

  • This is a vital sign that is tested to determine how much oxygen is getting through the bloodstream. This is important for patients who have experienced injury or illness and a lack of oxygenated blood flow could result in permanent damage to the brain, organs and overall health of the patient.

Non-Invasive Blood Pressure (NIBP)

  • This is a form of measuring the vital sign continuously. It’s not just recorded once and then forgotten about. The non-invasive blood pressure cuffs on electronic vital sign machines help to give a more accurate picture of the patient’s health.

Invasive Blood Pressure (IBP)

  • This procedures is typically done in a clinic or during surgery and involves much more skill in order to get a more accurate reading of the inside of the arteries themselves. An arterial catheter is inserted into the body to determine the blood pressure from inside.

Heart Rate

  • The pulse oximeter will also read the pulse, not just the amount of oxygen in the blood. This allows health practitioners to follow the health of the heart; in some cases, patients will be fitted with pads that are placed directly on the chest near the heart to determine the heart rate.

How Does One Go About Taking Vital Signs From a Patient?

In a non-clinical setting, vitals are taken by hand using only a few pieces of medical equipment, such as a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope, and a thermometer (manual or electronic). In a clinic setting however, vital signs are more carefully taken and on a more regular basis with electronic monitoring equipment that is very sophisticated and more sensitive to the patient’s health status.

When a patient enters a clinical setting, they will have a pulse oximeter reader placed on their index or middle finger. The non-invasive blood pressure cuff is typically used in a triage setting in a clinic or hospital, and that will gather information about the patient’s blood pressure. Temperature is taken using an electronic thermometer and respirations are typically skipped because the pulse oximeter is informing the health staff of the amount of oxygen in the blood - respirations will be considered manually if the person is having trouble breathing, however.

What Vital Signs Monitors Are Available on the Market Today?

There are a number of vital signs monitors available on the market today. These range in size, capability, reporting and more. There are also a number of blood pressure monitors that are used independently of vital signs monitors in smaller clinical settings, or for at home use when patients need to keep a close eye on their blood pressure because of medication regimes or illness. These are the typical vital signs monitors you would see in a clinical setting.

General Vital Signs Monitor

These machines provide the typical information expected to be recorded from a patient: pulse oximetry, heart rate, and blood pressure.

EEG and Vital Signs Monitor

These machines are specific to monitoring the heart rate, strength, oxygen in the blood and blood pressure. They are found more commonly in heart clinics or when a patient is complaining of chest pain.


These combination machines are similar to the above, but they are specifically for heart monitoring and patients may be hooked up to these machines for longer periods of time, especially if they are in critical condition.

Anesthesia and Vital Signs Monitor

This machine is used during surgery to ensure the patient is getting enough anesthetic, is breathing properly during surgery, is getting enough oxygen in the blood stream and that the blood pressure remains stable during surgery.

What to Look for in a Vital Signs Monitor Machine

When purchasing a vital signs monitor for your clinic or patient transport vehicle, such as an ambulance, you’ll want to consider how the machine is going to be used and what vital signs you need to record on a regular basis. Hospitals have multiple versions of these machines at their disposal and many well-stocked clinics have at least one of these machines to make vital monitoring easy and accurate. If you are in a clinical setting, you’ll want a machine that can be used stationary or placed on a cart and moved around the facility. If you are an ambulance attendant, paramedic or first responder, you’ll want a compact mobile version of these machines.

Battery life is important to these machines if you are moving them from location to location, as would be the case for a paramedic going from accident to accident. If you are stationary in an operating room or in a clinical setting, you’ll want a machine that can be plugged in for maximum monitoring power, but that has battery backup power so you can move the monitor around the facility with the patient.

Consider the features you need and then go for the “nice to haves” if your budget does not allow you to purchase a more complex machine. The basics you want to have are pulse oximetry and non-invasive blood pressure. Don’t forget to inquire about the warranty, repair services and replacement batteries, if you need them.


The basics of vital sign collection are simple, but they provide a huge amount of important information to health professionals. Without knowing how the body is reacting to injury or disease, doctors wouldn’t be able to act quickly when things go wrong. All of those beeping noises are actually full of vital information about a patient’s health, and there is no easier way to get access to that kind of information other than to use a vital signs monitor. 

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