Respiratory rate (RR) and oxygen saturation (SpO2) are two of the vital signs that are recommended to be monitored for every acutely ill patient. Both are critical for the early detection of patient deterioration and onset of respiratory failure caused by serious conditions such as pneumonia, sepsis and now also COVID-19.
Respiratory rate is measured manually by counting a patient’s breaths for one minute. This is a difficult and time-consuming process when you consider that every healthcare professional will have several patients under their care at any time.
Oxygen saturation refers to the percentage of oxygen in a patients’ bloodstream and is most often measured using pulse oximetry, whereby a patient will wear a device clipped onto the end of their finger or earlobe which will constantly monitor their oxygen saturation with very little intervention required by healthcare professionals.
However, oxygen saturation is not always the earliest indication of respiratory failure.
“Pulse oximetry measurement should not be seen as a replacement for measuring respiratory rate. Pulse oximetry monitors the amount of oxygen saturation, and oxygen saturations at an early stage in a patient’s deterioration journey are likely to be normal as the body compensates by changing the respiratory rate to maintain oxygenation.” (Rolfe, 2019)
In particular, healthcare professionals in recent weeks have found “Covid-19 patients presenting with catastrophically low blood oxygen levels but few other ill effects.” (Nuki, 2020)
Early detection of patient deterioration will trigger the earliest intervention and lead to better patient outcomes by avoiding escalations of care, such as ventilation.
“Invasive ventilation is never a good option for any patient if it can be avoided. It can result in muscle wastage around the lungs and makes secondary infections more likely. It also requires a cocktail of drugs which themselves can prove toxic and lead to organ failure.” (Nuki, 2020)
Continuous respiratory rate monitoring using RespiraSense has shown through Danish studies that it can detect deterioration from pulmonary oedema 6-12 hours earlier than the standard of care and before other vital signs begin to indicate distress.