The June 2008 issue of the journal MEDSURG Nursing has the findings of a study on the variation of different methods of taking a patient’s temperature. Read the summary article on it here at Medical News Today.
The gist of the story is that the study found significant variations in the different methods of taking a patient’s temperature. Using a standard digital oral thermometer as a baseline and comparing it to tympanic, temporal, and disposable oral strips, the authors of the study found that the other methods varied widely in their readings when compared with the baseline.
The significance of this is that our tools are only part of the process we use to assess patients. We also need to rely on our physical assessment skills and learn to judge the patient’s condition by our visual and physical findings as well as by the many monitoring devices we have at our disposal.
It takes me back to one of the first things I learned as a paramedic student years ago — Treat the patient and not the monitor. If your monitor shows a febrile patient but that patient shows no other signs or symptoms of a fever, you need to get another thermometer and check again.