Respiration, also known as breathing, is one of the four main vital signs that nursing assistants, nurses, respiratory therapists, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and other healthcare workers must know how to accurately obtain and record. Of course, the other three vital signs include temperature, pulse and blood pressure.
Alternately worded, a patient’s respiratory rate is his or her breathing rate. It is the number of breaths that he or she takes over the course of one full minute (60 seconds). Generally, a respiration rate that falls between 12 and 20 breaths over the course of one whole minute is considered a normal and expected finding in an adult who is resting.
Remember the concept in this manner for enhanced ease of recollection and lack of confusion: the process of respiration is more commonly known as the process of breathing. Respiration is a very high-priority basic need because a patient who stops breathing will be dead in a matter of minutes without timely outside intervention. Fortunately, taking and recording a patient’s respiratory rate is one of the technically easier procedural skills for a healthcare worker to carry out.
Respiration is an enormously complex activity that is comprised of two differing processes called inspiration and expiration. Through inspiration and expiration, the cells of the body continually exchange two gases called oxygen and carbon dioxide. The body simultaneously breathes in oxygen and expels carbon dioxide. Inspiration is the process of inhaling air into the lungs; likewise, it occurs when a patient breathes in. Expiration is the process of exhaling; therefore, it takes place when a patient breathes out.
Inspiration and expiration are massively important processes to the continual functioning of all human bodies since they are responsible for keeping the blood, organs and tissues rich with oxygen (read: inspiration) while ensuring that excess carbon dioxide leaves the body (read: expiration).
Furthermore, the procedure of measuring and recording a patient’s respiration rate is a testable skill on the Texas CNA state test. It is also a testable procedural skill in most other states. Therefore, a nurses aide who wants to pass the CNA state test to obtain certification as a certified nursing assistant will need to know how to accurately take and record a patient’s respiratory rate in the presence of an examiner at the testing site.
According to Pearson Vue (2018), a patient’s respirations should be counted and recorded using the following listed sequence of steps during the skills portion of the state CNA examination:
- The nursing assistant should explain the procedure to the patient in a slow and clearly understandable manner while maintaining regular face to face contact as needed.
- The nursing assistant must measure the patient’s respiratory rate for one entire minute (60 seconds).
- The nursing assistant should ensure that the patient’s call light or signaling device is within easy reach prior to ending the skill.
- The nursing assistant must wash his or her hands prior to recording the patient’s one-minute respiratory rate.
- The nursing assistant must document a respiratory rate number that is within two breaths of the examiner’s recorded reading. For instance, the nursing assistant will pass this skill if he or she records a respiratory rate of 16, even if the examiner had documented a respiration rate of 14.
To pass the procedural skill of measuring and recording respirations on the CNA state exam, the test taker’s documented one-minute respiration rate must fall within a predetermined range of plus or minus two breaths of the test site examiner’s recorded reading. Here are a handful of additional tips that can potentially help with obtaining a respiration rate from patients in clinical settings:
- Perform the opening procedures before starting the skill.
- Count it as one respiration each time the patient’s chest rises.
- Count the respirations for one entire minute (60 seconds) to obtain the one-minute respiratory rate.
- Record the respiratory rate as indicated.
- Perform the closing procedures after ending the skill.
All About Medical Training. (2015). Count and Record Respirations – CNA Skill Video AAMT. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS0adbHFneA
BioSpine Institute. (2018). Breathing (picture). Retrieved from https://biospine.com/diaphragm-back-pain/
Pearson Vue. (2018). Texas Nurse Aide Candidate Handbook. Retrieved from https://home.pearsonvue.com/getattachment/73a0c524-4cbe-401a-aa5c-fe1ebf4e2517/Texas