Healthcare News & Insights

Late-night vital sign checks may hurt patients’ recovery

It’s been a long-standing tradition to check hospital patients’ vital signs several times in the middle of the night. But this practice may actually be harmful to patients’ recovery, according to new research.

128933816For a good number of patients, these vital sign checks aren’t necessary, or even beneficial. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that almost half of patients who are woken up for vital signs aren’t high-risk patients at all.

In the study, researchers looked at data from over 54,000 hospital patients and found that low-risk patients were being roused for their vital signs at similar rates as high-risk patients.  Although patients who are more likely to experience complications may need their vitals checked every few hours, the need is less crucial for low-risk patient, according to an article from HealthDay News.

Letting low-risk patients sleep may be a better strategy. A lack of adequate rest in the hospital has been known to cause a number of problems down the line, and it can negatively affect a patient’s recovery. Since low-risk patients are less likely to need constant monitoring, the chance to have an uninterrupted night’s sleep could be more beneficial than having their vital signs checked frequently.

Reducing vital sign checks

What sorts of strategies can hospitals use to conduct fewer vital sign checks on patients who don’t need them? Researchers in the study suggested that doctors and nurses should place a different focus on a patient’s Modified Early Warning Score (MEWS).

The score is usually used to determine which patients need the greatest amount of care. By checking which patients have lower scores, however, staffers can use the MEWS score as an indicator to determine if a patient really needs a middle-of-the-night vital signs check.

Not only would fewer late-night vital sign checks help certain patients, it would also ease some of the burden on nurses and doctors. If it’s not necessary for them to evaluate every patient, they can focus their efforts on patients who need extra attention.

Technology’s role

If you’re not comfortable with the idea of doing away with vital checks, regardless of patients’ risk factors, other, less intrusive options are available, including devices that can monitor patients’ vital signs remotely.

One such device is being used by Palomar Medical Center in California, as detailed in an article from FierceMobileHealthcare. The device, which is worn on the wrist, tracks patients’ vital signs continuously. It has the ability to measure a patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, pulse and oxygen levels, among other things.

The hospital is the first in the nation to use this technology for patient care, and it’s had many benefits. Besides improving patients’ rest, the wrist monitoring devices have allowed doctors and nurses to intervene right when a patient first shows signs of distress, which has improved patient outcomes. It’s saved time, too, since nurses don’t have to manually take vitals with bulky equipment.

Whatever method your hospital chooses, it’s important to evaluate the benefits of taking patients’ vital signs at night against the drawbacks, so a system that works best for your hospital’s environment can be implemented.

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  1. prpennin says:

    You also have to consider the fact that some patients may not like to be checked at night.

  2. HeartSurgeon95 says:

    For quite a while now I have been writing an order on my low risk patients saying “do not awaken patient from 11 pm to 6 am for vitals, meds, labs, xrays, or any other reason unless the patient appears to be in distress. Coordinate medication administration time to occur outside these hours.” You can’t believe the pushback I’ve gotten from nursing administration – how dare I tell them how to take care of patients . . .

  3. Margaret Fleming says:

    Good article. I’d be glad to write a commendation for HeartSurgeon95!