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Vital signs monitors

Vital signs monitors are an efficient method for collecting accurate readings when evaluating patient health. Modern medicine relies on the data from vital monitors so medical staff can make decisions about a diagnosis and plan a course of treatment for their patients.

An informed purchase decision will ensure that the correct monitoring equipment is in your clinic, ER, surgery, hospital, or other medical facility. Clinicians need this information to make quick and accurate decisions. Quality patient care depends on doctors and nurses having accurate information at the right time.

Overall health and wellness can be quickly assessed by collecting a person’s vital signs. Vital signs specifically indicate what actions may need to be taken by medical personnel, whether collected during an annual physical exam, or at the scene of an accident. A person’s vital signs demonstrate how their body is performing at that moment. Occasionally, people will say they feel okay, especially in stressful situations, but their vital signs can tell an entirely different story. Vital signs are used as a crucial benchmark of the status of a patient’s health by doctors, nurses, first aiders, first responders, and paramedics.

Vital Monitor Buying Considerations

  • Researching Vital Monitors
  • What Needs to be Monitored and Why
  • Vital Monitor Features and Technical Specifications
  • Features of Basic Combined Monitors
  • Typical Vital Signs Monitors in a Clinical Setting
  • How to Maintain Vital Monitors
  • Printing and Reporting Capabilities
  • Purchase Criteria
  • Vital Monitor Brands
  • Accessories and Optional Configurations
  • Vital Monitor Costs
  • Where to Buy a Vital Monitor Machine

Researching Vital Monitors

The purchase of a vital monitor can be a frustrating experience. There are many makes and models to choose from depending on the intended purpose, budgetary concerns, as well as the preferences of experienced staff members.

  • Reasons for purchasing a new vital signs monitor include:
  • Replacement of end-of-life cycle equipment
  • Expansion of medical facility to add beds
  • Budget availability for existing beds for a higher percentage of monitors per patient
  • Specific use, or multi-purpose equipment

The modern vital sign monitors available today have bright, visible displays for easy reading. Most are powered by AC and DC, and also include an option for battery power. A battery backup is an important feature in the case of a power outage, or for normal patient portability. Some vital sign monitors are  highly portable, include a rolling stand or can be mounted on the wall permanently. Most monitors have the ability to interface with your EHR systems for annotating real-time wave forms and vital signs directly into your patient records.

This Vital Monitor Buyer’s Guide is designed to help you make an informed decision about your next monitor purchase. Having the right equipment will improve patient care, reduce staff frustrations, and maximize available budgetary funds.

What Needs to be Monitored and Why

Each healthcare center focuses primarily on the type of medical services it provides. This focus will help determine which vital signs need to be monitored in the delivery of patient services. An ambulance will focus on emergency medicine and therefore may not carry equipment to perform some more detailed tests like pulse oximetry, but they will certainly take each patient’s pulse and respiration rate to assess the best way to support the short-term transport of the patient to the hospital.

Most hospitals have a wide variety of specialized monitors, as well as several more generalized units designed to move with patients, collect early diagnostic criteria, and record patient recovery.

Specialized hospitals or departments will have a greater percentage of specialized equipment in order to support multiple patients with similar medical conditions. For example, the ICU will have stationary units by each bedside, while the NICU will use fetal vital signs monitors for babies. This may seem obvious to some, but during the purchase process it is crucial that the purchasing department understand the exact use of the equipment, and not just focus on the budgetary concerns.

Vital Signs

These vital signs are typical of the information doctors, nurses, and emergency responders require in order to make the appropriate healthcare decisions for their patients:

  1. Pulse: The first step in emergency medicine is to check the patient’s pulse. After initial assessments have been made, changes in pulse rates and the strength of the heart beats provide valuable information for patient care. 
  2. Pulse Oximetry: Pulse oximetry is tested in order to determine exactly how much oxygen is in the blood. Damage to the brain and other organs can result from low oxygen levels in the bloodstream. A pulse oximeter also reads the pulse, as well as the blood oxygen levels. Practitioners can determine more aspects of heart health by using both measures together.
  3. Blood Pressure: In a first responder situation, the blood pressure is often first recorded using a BP cuff (sphygmomanometer) and a stethoscope. This information helps the paramedic decide if a high level of monitoring is required during transport. Once the patient arrives at the hospital, the blood pressure will be assessed again, often in conjunction with an electronic monitor. This helps assess heart stress and how strongly the heart is beating. Blood loss can be indicated by low blood pressure readings, as well as indicate the patient may be in shock.
  4. Non-Invasive Blood Pressure (NIBP): Non-invasive blood pressure monitor measures a patient’s blood pressure on a continuous basis. The electronic vital sign machines include non-invasive blood pressure cuffs to give a continual, accurate assessment of patient health.
  5. Invasive Blood Pressure (IBP): Invasive blood pressure is a common technique used in ICU facilities. An arterial catheter is directly inserted in the patient’s body, which determines blood pressure from the inside. The procedure is usually only performed in specialty clinics or during surgery, and requires specialized medical training. This provides medical staff with detailed readings from the inside of the arteries.
  6. Respiration: The rate of breathing and the difficulty with which a patient breathes is a clear indication of the patient’s overall health. Shallow breathing or excessively deep breaths have different meanings. First responders, doctors and nurses can use this data to determine the existence of underlying injuries and decide on a course of action.
  7. Temperature: Infection and illness change the patient’s core body temperature. Regular monitoring of the body temperature helps provide insight to clinicians for diagnostics purposes, especially while watching the trends. As the patient’s temperature moves closer to normal body temperature, clinicians can be assured the medical treatment is working effectively.
  8. Vital Sign Variability: Vital signs can change quickly and unexpectedly at times. Continuous monitoring reduces the chances of missed signals associated with clinical teamwork overloads or sporadic variability in the patient’s readings. Doctors and nurses are able to make proactive decisions to improve patient care, satisfaction, and overall outcomes.

Vital Monitor Features and Technical Specifications

The monitoring of vital signs is typically the first thing that happens to every patient upon entering a medical setting. Individual devices can be used to measure separate aspects of the patient’s health, but combination monitors are most frequently used. These monitors are especially preferred by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in critical-care situations where vital signs can suddenly fluctuate.

The monitors record and store data to show the patient’s real-time health status. They use warning visuals and sounds to alert medical personnel of important changes.

Features of Basic Combined Monitors

Combined monitors are either intended for portable or fixed use, and typically include the following basic features:

  • Large digital LED color display
  • Printing capability option
  • Measures and displays heart rates
  • Blood pressure monitoring using non-invasive or invasive oscillometric methods
  • Calculates mean arterial pressure
  • EMR connectivity
  • Monitors and records respiration rate
  • Storage for data
  • Dual Temperature
  • Oxygen saturation via pulse oximetry SpO2

These standard features are available in all modern medical monitors. When the buyer requires more detailed customization, the purchasing decisions can become more complex.

Typical Vital Signs Monitors in a Clinical Setting

There are several types of vital sign monitors being used in the healthcare industry today. They range in capability, size, type of reports created and more. Choosing the appropriate monitor for the intended purpose will keep costs down, and patient satisfaction levels up.

  1. General Vital Signs Monitors: For applications where the typical, basic patient information is all that is required, the Welch Allyn Connex Spot Vital Signs Monitor 7100 is a great monitor. The Connext 7100 vital signs monitor machine provides pulse oximetry, temperature and blood pressure readings. Touch screen monitors with minimal knobs are designed for efficient cleaning. Bright colors on screen make reading easy, improving workflow. The intuitive designs are helpful during orientation and training.
  2. EEG and Vital Signs Monitors: The Schiller Tranquility II Monitor  specifically monitors blood pressure ranges, oxygen in the blood, heart rate, and strength. These are more commonly used in specialized heart clinics or for specific patients when they are complaining about chest pains.
  3. EEG EKG NIBP Monitors: The Mortara Surveyor S19 Monitor is a combination machine designed to monitor heart patients who may require longer-term oversight, especially for those in critical condition.
  4. Fetal Monitors - Vital Signs Monitor for Babies: Common in prenatal care facilities, the Wallach Fetal2EMR fetal monitor effectively monitors a single baby or twins. This device includes a built-in thermometer, printer, and data can be easily transferred via USB cable, USB flash drive, or Ethernet. Fetal heart rates are monitored using technology which simultaneously integrates electronic medical records in real time.

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