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Improving measurement of vital signs

Vital signs are clinical measurements which assess a child’s basic body functions. The main vital signs measured are body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen saturation. Healthcare professionals often measure vital signs in children – but need more accurate ways of measuring vital signs and interpreting how normal or abnormal they are when caring for an individual child in primary care and emergency department settings.

We are involved in a stream of work which aims to find out how we can use vital signs to identify serious illness in children. We have produced new charts so that doctors and nurses can determine whether a child’s heart rate and breathing rate are normal or abnormal. These centile charts are being used around the world. We are now identifying more accurate ways of measuring breathing rates and oxygen levels in children, as these can be difficult to measure accurately. We are also identifying the best combination of vital signs that can be used in primary care and emergency departments to identify children with serious illnesses.

  • Pulse Oximetry. GPs use pulse oximeters to measure the oxygen saturation of a patient’s blood. The accuracy of some of these devices is unknown. We are carrying out research to identify which devices GPs commonly use, and to test the accuracy of these.

For more information contact Susannah Fleming or Matthew Thompson

  • More accurate measurement of respiratory rate. In collaboration with Professor Lionel Tarrasenko and colleagues in the University of Oxford department of Biomedical Engineering, we have conducted several studies using a new method to measure breathing rate electronically in children. This new technology should be simple, rapid and not invasive, and may be able to improve the diagnostic tools that GPs and ED clinicians use to measure breathing rate.

For more information contact Susannah Fleming or Matthew Thompson