Vital signs are a critical component of patient care, and they matter at every appointment. Taking vitals regularly can help assess a person’s general physical health, give clues about possible diseases, and show progress toward recovery.
Taking vitals is routine for most primary care providers. But many specialty practices do not record and chart vitals as a regular part of their workflow. As a health care practitioner, you may wonder: “Is it really necessary to measure weight, temperature, or blood pressure at every appointment?” The answer is “yes.” Vital signs can help reveal underlying diseases, and they provide essential baseline data for treatment decisions and historical trends.
Let’s look more closely at why vitals signs matter at every appointment.
Why vital signs matter (now and later)
Vital signs are useful for both immediate and future care. At any given medical appointment, taking vitals is one way practitioners can identify an acute medical problem. Measuring vitals can quickly quantify the magnitude of an illness and how well the body is coping with the resultant physiological stress.
Vitals are also valuable as long-term health indicators that can indicate problems like chronic disease. For example, chronically elevated blood pressure indicates hypertension. But without regularly checking blood pressure and tracking the results, it would be hard to confirm this diagnosis.
Vitals can prevent misdiagnosis
Many diseases manifest in similar symptoms, and measuring vital signs can help prevent misdiagnosis. Imagine a patient with hypothyroidism, which results from the thyroid gland not creating enough hormones. The patient is complaining about fatigue, sluggishness, and sleeping too much. These symptoms lead a doctor to diagnose depression.
But depression is a common symptom of hypothyroidism. A doctor might overlook the possibility that someone who is depressed has low thyroid levels as well. Vitals would complete the picture because other symptoms of hypothyroidism include slower heart rate, low blood pressure, and weight gain (among others). In this scenario, the doctor would make an accurate diagnosis if they checked vital signs and compared them to the patient’s history.
Vitals mattered for Meaningful Use
The Meaningful Use program emphasized the importance of accurate vitals in the modern era. Meaningful use was designed to expand use of electronic health records (EHRs). Stage 2 of the program required eligible providers to chart vital signs for more than 80 percent of all unique patients.
Height, weight, and blood pressure were all required under Meaningful Use (with blood pressure applying only to patients 3 years old and over). Eligible providers were expected to calculate and display BMI for all patients. They were also required to plot growth charts for patients 0-20 years.
Vitals signs should be as accurate as possible
In the era of digital health, it is easier than ever record accurate vitals at every appointment. Consider the common ways you might receive and store vitals in the EHR:
- A member of the medical team records vitals directly
- Another provider transfers data by fax or electronically
- A patient enters their own data through an online portal
In each of these scenarios, it’s possible to make errors when you transcribe data. But digital monitors and smart software make it easier than ever to automate vital sign collection. Consider using the latest technology to automate vitals collection during patient visits.
Tools like Mobius Clinic allow data collected by physiological monitors to instantly appear in a patient’s electronic chart, ensuring accurate recording with no transcription errors. Recognizing the importance accurate measurement – and the time it takes for staff to record them – more hospitals and clinics are using smart tools to capture and record vital signs.