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Digital vs. Manual: Vitals Capture Methods and Workflows

A clinician is about to take a patient’s temperature with an automated vital signs device.

When it comes to vitals capture, many clinicians are using several different pieces of equipment to manually do the job. But what if you could capture everything you needed with just one powerful tool? How would that impact your day-to-day? Let’s discuss.

Vital signs are measurements of the body's most basic functions. They represent an assessment of the physiological and physical status of a patient and are critical to giving you an accurate picture of their health during an office visit. The main vital signs routinely monitored by health care providers include:

  • Blood pressure
  • Body temperature
  • Pulse rate (or heart rate)
  • Pulse Oximetry commonly known as SpO2

A full set of patient vitals provides a baseline or reference for the entire chain of care provided. Vitals are useful in detecting or monitoring medical problems and could help you determine which treatment protocols to follow, including potentially which medications to prescribe. Tracking vitals over time can help you assess reactions to, or effectiveness of, treatments and offer insight into how a patient’s health is trending. At the end of the day, accurately captured and documented vital signs can help inform the potentially life-saving decisions that care teams make.

It’s well established how important vitals are, but what about the workflow for this critical process? How does it impact your already busy clinicians? Typically, primary care offices encounter a very high volume of patients. In 2015 alone, 53% of the estimated 922.6 million office visits were primary care practice encounters.1 Every second counts in a patient interaction when you see so many patients in a day and need to manage your time as effectively as possible.

A traditional, manual workflow typically involves capturing each vital sign individually from start to finish, in sequence. It also may involve tracking down several different pieces of equipment including, but not limited to, a blood pressure cuff, manual gauge or sphygmomanometer, stethoscope, handheld thermometer, SpO2 sensor/device, a wristwatch or timer, etc. Gathering the required equipment (and sanitizing if necessary) is the first piece of this workflow, needed before the actual vitals capture even begins. Once materials are gathered, our hypothetical exam can begin.

Let’s start with blood pressure (BP). You probably get out the manual BP gauge and inflate the cuff by hand while listening through a stethoscope for Korotkoff Sounds. Then, you may capture body temperature using a standalone thermometer, with the body site depending on the patient. After that, you likely capture pulse rate by placing your fingertips on the patient’s artery and counting to calculate the beats per minute. Finally, you may use a finger sensor or standalone device to measure the amount of oxygen in a patient’s blood known as their pulse oximetry or SpO2. The complete, manual vitals capture process can be both labor- and time-intensive, involving multiple different pieces of independently operating equipment.

At Hillrom, we believe simple is smart. When it comes to vital signs, an all-in-one solution is ideal. Digital vital signs devices, like the Welch Allyn® Spot Vital Signs® 4400 Device, consolidate the way you capture your patients’ vitals with an intuitive user interface and simple touchscreen display. You can capture a full set of vitals including temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and SpO2 right from the home screen in about one minute!2 For comparison, a study concluded that measuring blood pressure via the manual method with a Tycos wall gauge, took an average of 58.6 seconds.3 In the approximate time it takes to manually capture just one of the 4 main vital signs in your workflow, you could have captured and documented them all with one device.

The right solution can help save you time and reduce the headaches of managing multiple pieces of equipment so you can focus on what matters most, your patients. So, what does a streamlined, all-in-one digital workflow look like? Let’s look at an example.

From the home screen of your device:

  • Place the BP cuff on the patient’s arm and press “start.” This will begin to capture blood pressure on inflation, quickly and easily while you can turn to capturing your other vitals simultaneously.
  • Place the SpO2 sensor on the opposite finger of the arm taking the BP reading, and it will begin to capture pulse oximetry immediately.
  • Place the thermometer probe from the device into the sublingual pocket of the patients mouth to acquire an oral temperature (some devices may have an ear thermometer instead depending on your preferred configuration and primary patient population).
  • Pulse rate will automatically populate on the screen via the BP or the SpO2 functions on the device without any additional steps.
  • That’s it! You have captured a full set of vitals, from one device, in about one minute.

You have enough to worry about. Why capture patient vitals using multiple manual devices and steps, when you can use one trusted device that does it all instead? And now that you have the vitals capture workflow down, you can even connect with your EMR systems to send the information directly to your patient’s chart from the device, simplifying your documentation process too. To learn how we can help streamline your workflow and save you time during vitals capture and documentation visit

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ambulatory Care Use and Physician office visits. 2017; Ref.:
  2. Statistic based on a clinical simulator. Additional support can be found in the following paper: Yarows SA. What is the Cost of Measuring a Blood Pressure? Ann Clin Hypertens. 2018; 2: 059-066.
  3. Yarows SA. What is the Cost of Measuring a Blood Pressure? Ann Clin Hypertens. 2018; 2: 059-066.