Inaccurate respiratory rates could impact patient safety, researchers say

Dr. Anil Makam, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine with the Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research.

Patients’ respiratory rates are often not accurately recorded in the hospital, researchers in UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR) have found.

Their study, published in BMJ Quality & Safety, suggests that hospital personnel tend to “eyeball” rather than directly observe and count patients’ respiratory rates.

“Respiratory rate is one of the five vital signs that are essential to assessing a person’s health,” said Dr. Anil Makam, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and senior author of the study. “Inaccurate recording of the respiratory rate could lead to misjudgment of how sick someone is, potentially jeopardizing patient safety.”

The study highlights an important opportunity to improve an everyday practice that occurs in hospitals across the world, and ultimately improve health outcomes for those patients.

To reduce the occurrence of these inaccuracies, researchers suggest the need for greater training of hospital personnel to accurately record the respiratory rate by directly observing and counting the number of breaths taken over a period of 30 to 60 seconds.

Research from PCOR focuses on understanding when, how, and why hospitalized adults have difficulty recovering or experience other undesired health outcomes after they leave the hospital. The Center was established through a grant by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). AHRQ’s mission is to produce evidence to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable, and to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other partners to make sure that the evidence is understood and used.