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Are PTs Monitoring Enough Vital Signs?

Vital signs are health indicators that provide valuable objective data about our patients. Additionally, monitoring vital signs can assist physical therapists with proper dosing of exercise intensity and prescription.Not only is monitoring vital signs part of our Guide to Physical Therapy Practice2, but it is also an effective screening mechanism that can identify undiagnosed medical conditions, save lives, and provide a wealth of information into the overall well-being of our patients. As Frese et al. reported, understanding how to measure and interpret blood pressure and other vital signs is an integral part of best practice.3
Are PTs Monitoring Enough Vital Signs?
Vital signs are health indicators that provide valuable objective data about our patients. Additionally, monitoring vital signs can assist physical therapists with proper dosing of exercise intensity and prescription.Not only is monitoring vital signs part of our Guide to Physical Therapy Practice2, but it is also an effective screening mechanism that can identify undiagnosed medical conditions, save lives, and provide a wealth of information into the overall well-being of our patients. As Frese et al. reported, understanding how to measure and interpret blood pressure and other vital signs is an integral part of best practice.3
Vital signs have four core values, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature.1 These are objective measures that give you clues on the baseline wellness and response to the activity of your patients. The medical community has initiated including other vital signs; however, without agreeance, there are not set additional vital signs. This does not mean measuring other signs, such as oxygen saturation, blood glucose levels, shortness of breath, and pain levels do not provide valuable information. Currently, the promotion of including a vital sign that measures functional status, such as gait speed, is being used in practice. 4,5
The APTA also has great resources available to assist with vital sign interpretation.6 Next time you are with a patient, think about how you are incorporating vital signs into your practice.
Written by:
Kimberly Benson PT, DPT, NCS
References:
  1. Fletcher GF, Balady GJ, Amsterdam EA, et al. Exercise Standards for Testing and Training: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2001;104(14):1694-1740. doi:10.1161/hc390095960
  2. American Physical Therapy Association. Guide to Physical Therapist Practice. Alexandria, VA: American Physical Therapy Association. 2014.
  3. Frese EM, Fick A, Sadowsky HS. Blood pressure measurement guidelines for physical therapists. Cardiopulm Phys Ther J. 2011;22(2):5-12.
  4. Bierman AS. Functional status: the six vital sign. J Gen Intern Med. 2001;16(11):785-786.
  5. Studenski S, Perera S, Wallace D, et al. Physical performance measures in the clinical setting.J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003;51(3):314-322.
  6. APTA vital sign and other patient screening. Accessed on 12Feb2019 at http://www.apta.org/PatientScreenings/. http://www.apta.org/PatientScreenings/.

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