Are You Getting Accurate Blood Pressure Readings?

Article Categories: Patient Care & Laboratory and Testing

One of the first steps for most office visits is to obtain vital signs and weight. With digital devices, it’s simple to quickly gather the information and move the patient to the exam room. But…are you certain that you’re getting the most accurate blood pressure reading?

When patients are being treated for hypertension, their readings are an important part of their treatment plans. A systolic number that changes by five points, and a diastolic number by two points, is enough to alter medical treatment in about 45% of patients.

Before you sit your patients down, here are six things that can help get the best reading:

1. Ask “Did you just get here?” Just sitting for five minutes after arriving can allow the patient to relax. According to, walking quickly to get to the appointment can boost a reading by five to fourteen points. Driving in traffic can raise it nine to fourteen points! If your patient just raced to the office, wait at least five minutes.

2. Ask “Have you had coffee or a cigarette in the last 30 minutes?” Whether taking blood pressure at home or in the office, patients should know that either can cause a rise in their numbers.

3. Be quiet while taking vital signs. Many patients are nervous about coming for a medical appointment. It might make sense to try and relieve anxiety with small talk, but it can actually increase blood pressure by ten points. This is called “white coat hypertension” and 25% of patients can experience it.

4. Assess their bladder, too. When the bladder is full, it can raise blood pressure by 20 points. Before your patients sit, ask if they need to use the restroom.

5. Sit up straight. Proper posture is not just for good manners, it can also affect the reading. Make sure patients sit up straight with good back support and legs uncrossed. The cuff should be at heart level. If your patients check their blood pressure at home, teach them to do these steps, as well.

6. Check both arms. Harvard Medical School recommends routinely taking blood pressures in each arm. When researchers looked at 20 studies where readings varied by 15 points or more, they found that patients were more than twice as likely to have undiagnosed peripheral artery disease.

Your diligence during this “routine” activity can make a big difference in a patient’s permanent health record and subsequent treatment. Your physicians and patients will thank you for taking time to get a truly accurate blood pressure reading.

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