Vital Signs Monitors
Edition: March 2003 - Vol 11 Number 03
Vital signs are measurements of the bodyís most basic functions. The four main vital signs routinely monitored by medical professionals and healthcare providers include:
∑ Body temperature
∑ Pulse rate
∑ Respiration rate (rate of breathing)
∑ Blood pressure (Blood pressure is not considered a vital sign, but is often measured along with the vital signs.)
Vital signs monitors provide continuous monitoring of multiple critical parameters, including temperature, noninvasive blood pressure, pulse rate, ECG and oxygen saturation (SpO2), making them suitable for conscious sedation procedures as well as simple monitoring. They are found in the acute care setting as well as clinical and private office settings.
Key selling points include these monitorsí ease of transport and portability, versatility and flexibility, the clarity with which readings are displayed, their ability to be networked with central workstations, and their ability to be incorporated into electronic medical records systems.
Ease of transport of vital signs monitors is a strong selling point in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Some models weighing less than 10 pounds can be easily carried with convenient carrying handles. Many monitors can be stand- and roller-mounted for easy transport. For example, GE Medical Systems touts that its DINAMAP PRO Series Monitor sports roller blade-style wheels for effortless gliding.
Accessories for vital signs monitors can include reusable or disposable cuffs, cuff hoses and power cords. Some units have built-in printers or recorders, so that waveforms and graphic trends can be captured for later review or the record. (Built-in printers and recorders can be especially useful to track apnea events by recording the patientís respiration, heart rate and oxygen saturation level.) Other models can be connected wirelessly to printers.
Like many technologies, vital signs monitors are becoming smaller and smaller. The Welch Allyn Micropaq wireless ambulatory monitor, for example, features waveform display, multi-parameter monitoring and patient alarm capabilities in a patient-wearable device. This 1-pound unit provides measurement of ECG, heart rate and pulse oximetry. Itís said to be well-suited for use in cardiac care with ambulatory patients connected wirelessly to a network and central nursing workstation.
Data from vital signs monitors could become an integral part of electronic medical records very soon. In fact, as many as 64 GE DINAMAP PRO monitors can be connected to its CHANT Server software for automatic uploading into the electronic medical record.
At least one company Ė QRS Diagnostics in Plymouth, Minn. Ė uses PC Card technology to convert off-the-shelf PC, laptop or handheld computers into medical devices, including monitors. The companyís VitalCards product has yet to be cleared by the FDA. However, itís already marketing cards for spirometry, electrocardiography and spirometry/pulse oximetry. Combined with personal digital assistants (PDAs) that support wireless networking, these cards can be used for mobile wireless health monitoring.
Brewerton, N.Y.-based Nasiff Associates has developed a similar technology, and is said to have been the first to develop a PC-based vital signs monitor in 1997, including a 12-lead ECG, non-invasive blood pressure, SpO2 and temperature.