Vital signs play an important role in identifying patients that are at risk of clinical
deterioration. While upcoming deterioration can often be accurately predicted by changes
such as elevated heart rate, respiratory rate or decreased oxygen saturation in the
blood, the warning signs often go unnoticed and are only detected once the patient’s
condition has visibly decreased. This is partly caused by inadequate recording of vital signs.
Respiratory rate in particular can be inadequately measured and recorded. Manually
counting breaths over a minute can be subject to human error due to interruptions
and the patient being overly conscious of their own breathing while it’s being counted.
Standard ECG equipment intended to track heart rate is not always suitable, especially
outside Critical Care units, while pulse oximeters also have limitations.
Gathering observations of vital signs is a routine task for nurses, but high workloads
and limitations to equipment cause this sometimes-vital information to go unnoticed.
While early detection in Emergency triage is one key clinical context for the problem,
similar circumstances can be seen in general and paediatric wards, different care
facilities and remote care.
Contagious viruses and COVID-19
Since the emergence of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020, the importance of protecting clinical staff from contagious viruses and other such conditions alike has become a hot issue. Any contact with a contagious patient poses a risk for the virus to be passed on to members of staff and as a follow-up to other patients, risking a facility-wide outbreak.