Medical assistant training prepares you for a range of clinical tasks
What’s usually the first thing that happens when you go to the doctor? Most doctors’ appointments begin when a medical assistant measures your vital signs. The medical assistant normally starts with your height and weight, and goes on to measure your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse.
Have you ever wondered why your vital signs are so important? These tests give the doctor an idea of how your vital organs—your heart, lungs, and circulatory system—are functioning. If you have abnormal vital signs, such as high blood pressure, racing pulse, or an unexplained weight loss, this will signal to the doctor that there may be a more serious problem.
Learning to measure a patient’s vital signs is harder than it looks. If you are in school for medical assistant training, you will learn the following procedures for getting an appointment started:
- Be sure the exam room is prepped before a patient visit
- Greet the patient, confirm his or her name, and make sure you have the correct patient chart or Electronic Health Record
- Wash your hands before any patient contact
- Tell patients what you are doing before you do it
- Take the patient’s weight, height, temperature, blood pressure, and pulse
- Know the normal ranges for all the vital signs, so that you are aware if a patient’s signs are out of the safe range
- Alert a physician of any abnormal measurements
- Record the vital sign information accurately in the patient’s chart
- Observe all patient privacy rules
Measuring blood pressure, temperature, and pulse
Once you learn the basics of patient interaction, it’s time to learn the specific details for measuring vital signs. When taking a patient’s temperature, medical assistants need to know how to work with different types of thermometers. One of the more common thermometers today is the tympanic thermometer that is used in the ear. There are also oral and rectal thermometers that may need to be used in certain situations.
Medical assistants also need to know how to measure a patient’s pulse accurately. They need to know where to find the pulse on a patient’s wrist, how to listen for the beats-per-minute, and how to assess the strength and regularity of the pulse. If there are any concerns about the pulse, you should alert the physician before he or she sees the patient.
Measuring blood pressure is a more complicated process, because you need to learn to operate the blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, valves, air pumps, and the gauge. The first step to measuring a patient’s blood pressure is making sure the patient is positioned correctly for an accurate read. Next, you need to know where the brachial pulse is located. This is the pulse you can feel on the inside of your elbow. From this point, you need to apply blood pressure cuff with the cuff’s artery mark directly over the brachial artery,
While taking blood pressure, medical assistants need to know how to close the valve, position the stethoscope, and inflate the cuff quickly. Then on deflation, they need to know how to listen for and record the thumping sounds that identify the systolic and diastolic pressure. They also need to understand the expected measurements for children, adults, and pregnant patients.
Taking an accurate blood pressure reading is important because high blood pressure is related to potentially serious medical problems including heart disease and stroke.
In short, your vital signs are an important measure of your health. Next time you get your vital signs taken, be sure to thank the medical assistant, and remember—it’s not as easy as it looks!
This post is part of the Salter College weekly blog. Contact us today to learn more about applying to our various career training programs, or to request more information. We look forward to hearing from you.