Understand patient monitor readings


The hospital patient monitor has different monitor readings depending on what the medical device is being used for. Some displays are clearly marked and easy to read, while others are not.

The monitor collects data about your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, blood oxygen levels and pulse rate through sensors attached to your skin. Patient monitors are critical for EMS first responders to begin recognizing what is happening, especially if the patient is unconscious or unable to speak.

Here is some information to help you decipher hospital monitor readings.

Heart rate

All monitors record the patient’s heart rate. You might see a wavy line with the letter “HR” above it, short for heart rate. The number you see is the patient’s actual heart rate. Normal resting “HR” ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

Blood pressure

Patient monitoring is also necessary to track blood pressure. The reading is the pressure of blood being pumped through the arteries by the heart. You might see another wavy line with the letter “NIPB” on it and two numbers next to it, separated by a slash. The first number, also known as the top number, is systolic blood pressure, which is measured after the heart contracts and the pressure is at its highest level. The second or lower number, diastolic blood pressure, is measured when the heart is at rest and the pressure is at its lowest level.

Normal systolic pressure ranges from 100 to 130 while normal diastolic pressure ranges from 60 to 80. For example, a reading of 110/75 will reflect healthy blood pressure.

Body temperature

This is one of the easiest measurements to identify because the range is limited. Normal body temperature is considered 98.6° F, but it can now range from a high of 97 degrees to a low of 99 degrees and there is no need to worry.

Breathing rate

A healthy person at rest takes an average of 12 to 16 breaths per minute. The reading may be accompanied by a line with the letter “RR” above it. Even if this measurement is not clearly marked on the display, you can recognize it by its range.

Oxygen levels

Also known as oxygen saturation, this number, identified by the name “SpO2,” is a measure of the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. Use a ratio of 100. A number of 95 or higher is healthy. A number between 90 and 94 isn’t great, but it still means the body is getting enough oxygen. Any number below 90 indicates oxygen levels are not high enough and may require treatment.

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If one of the above measurements is not in the normal range, depending on the model, an alarm or flashing light will indicate a problem. Patient monitoring equipment is an important part of EMS equipment because it provides insight into what is happening in the body.

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