Making Vital Signs Vital

By Tamala Sammons, M.A., CCC-SLP, Therapy Resource
We have been focused on why it is so important to measure vital signs as part of our clinical practice. Not only does the data help us with early detection of sepsis, identifying patient instability, having comparative baselines during exercise, and knowing when to stop an activity, but it also helps us make better clinical decisions around patient care. Now, therapy teams need to also focus on capturing measured vital signs into our daily documentation practices.

Measuring and documenting vital signs starts at the evaluation to ensure treatment plans are designed to address challenges with varying diagnoses and to ensure we provide interventions accordingly.

Next, vital signs are measured during treatment sessions to support decisions around interventions being provided. The key for us as therapists is to capture the data from vital signs as a guide to what interventions we will provide, or stop providing. In other words, we need to do more than simply take and record vitals. We need to use vital sign data as tools to make clinical decisions.

For example:

● Mr. Smith has O2 weaning as a goal. OT is documenting patient is SOB during activity; however, no vitals were recorded at evaluation or in TENs. Data was only entered into PCC. Here is why capturing vitals in our clinical documentation is also needed: Documentation is further enhanced when the OT documents how many liters the patient is on and levels of O2 before the activity, five minutes into the activity, and after the activity. This documentation is specific to the therapy session and needs to be recorded in the TENs as it supports what physical activity the patient can tolerate as part of decisions around O2 weaning and overall improvement with ADLs.

● Mr. Jones has precautions with BP risk identified on the PT evaluation. However, upon review of daily TENs, BP is not captured in the documentation pre-, five minutes into, and post-exercise. BP was entered into PCC, which is great for simply recording data. However, using the data in a meaningful way in our TENs supports the clinical judgment of a therapist (i.e., what decisions during treatment were made based on BP readings?) and further supports medical necessity for care.

● Mr. Romero had a CHF exacerbation and the hospital record noted he has 45% ejection fraction and he has SOB with walking greater than 75 feet. Documented vitals are paramount to ensure that his treatment with functional activities or prescribed exercise are keeping his HR between 25-35% of his target HR.

Other Examples:

● Pt. “V” has SOB and needs to rest frequently. What do the vital signs tell us and do we change direction in treatment due to those measures?

● Pt. “I” is on 2L O2. PT is working on ther ex and gait. Does O2 change with exercise? How long does it take to get them to recover?

● Pt. “T” is medically complex and post-septic. What do we know about pts who have been septic? How are we ensuring we are monitoring for s/s of sepsis while in therapy? What vitals are recorded in our documentation to support our clinical treatment decisions?

● Pt. “A” is doing breathing exercises with SLP due to COPD. What is the patient’s respiratory rate pre-, during, and post-breathing exercises? What are the O2 levels? How do we know the interventions are working?

● Pt. “L” is a cardiac patient. How are vitals documented during treatment sessions to support exercise prescription? How do we know our plan is working?

Please continue to work with your teams to not only measure vitals, but more importantly, integrate the data into evaluation and treatment documentation to support skilled intervention decisions, capture clinical judgement, and demonstrate medical necessity of our services.