Checking vitals on a stranger to see if they are OK

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  • Editorial Team / Admin
    Specializes in Programming / Strategist for allnurses. Has 27 years experience.

I've never approached "someone that looks sick", I feel that would be intrusive and I wouldn't want someone to do that to me. If someone asked me to I would. If they look like they need an ambulance I would approach and see what I could do to help. I've checked vitals in an emergency situation of course- there were two young adults hit by a car that drove off outside of my apartment and I heard it happen.


827 Posts

Specializes in pediatrics, public health.

I agree with FreethinkloveRN. I would never approach someone simply because they appeared sick, unless they looked so sick I thought they might be about to pass out. And in that case, my first step wouldn't be to try to take their vitals, it would be to ask them if they needed assistance, and maybe help them to sit down somewhere and then call 911. In fact, calling 911 would always be my first step if I saw someone who appeared to be in distress. Since I don't generally carry a blood pressure cuff with me and have no idea how to estimate a BP by palpation, nor do I generally carry a thermometer in my back pocket, the only vitals I would be able to take would be heart rate and breathing rate. After calling 911, I might take their pulse or count their breathing rate, especially if they appeared to be having heart or respiratory issues.

I once called 911 because I was having heart palpations. I counted my own pulse at 240 bpm (!). I shared this info with the 911 operator, but she told me she had no idea what that meant. The paramedics didn't seem to believe me until they checked for themselves (which I guess is appropriate, come to think of it).


55 Posts

If you see someone who looks ill and/or in distress, don't you owe it to the human race to ask them if they are OK? Need of assistance, whether or not you are a nurse? However, once you whip out the stethescope you have entered a binding contract as a professional and are indeed obligated, so be careful of acting above your qualifications. It can be a fine line between good Samaritan and legal responsibility.


710 Posts

Specializes in Pediatric Private Duty; Camp Nursing. Has 6 years experience.

I've gone over to people in public who pass out or get dizzy and ask if I could help, so far help has been refused.

kythe, LPN

261 Posts

Specializes in LPN. Has 16 years experience.

I recently fainted while on a nature walk with a group, and a nearby med student checked my pulse and asked me basic questions to assess my orientation before letting me stand up again. Someone else gave me a couple of water bottles, one to drink and one to cool off my face and neck. Someone else drove me home in case I was still dizzy and lightheaded. But beyond basic interventions like that, I don't see what else would be appropriate in a non-life threatening situation. If you really believe the person needs more than just some friendly assistance, you probably should be calling them an ambulance.

Maybe the person who "looks sick" is struggling with a chronic illness but knows how to handle their symptoms. Or maybe they are having an acute illness but they've already been to the doctor and don't need interference from strangers. You never know what a person's background is, but it also isn't necessarily just anyone's business.


79 Posts

Specializes in STICU, MICU. Has 6 years experience.

Twice... I checked for a pulse, if that counts. It was a yes or no type of inquisition, not a time to count.

That is the only circumstance where I see it would be relevant...not like I carry anything to treat with if I were to find something abnormal. A good nurse call tell someone is in distress without vitals and the appropriate response would be to offer help, assure they are safe from further harm and call 911. If they don't look distressed, I am not offering a vital check.


207 Posts

Specializes in Psychiatry, ICU, ER. Has 4 years experience.

The only reason I would intervene for any reason is if someone were clearly having trouble with ABCs. And, in that case, I wouldn't even ask them, I'd call 911.

I have absolutely no desire to meddle with the health concerns of people who are not my patients.


1,026 Posts

I think I would assist someone who would look sick or ill. Although if they said that they do not need any help then I would respect their preference.

Specializes in Trauma, ER, ICU, CCU, PACU, GI, Cardiology, OR. Has 55 years experience.

Needless to say we all have done this at point or another... Aloha~


716 Posts

Specializes in Public Health, L&D, NICU. Has 15 years experience.

I had a week of jury duty once, and must have had to state my profession about 20 times during the different voir dires. So plenty of people knew I was a nurse. One morning in the jury room, someone ran in and grabbed me, saying I had to come downstairs right then. I found a woman on the floor, out cold. I made sure the heroes were on the way, and kept asking if anyone knew anything about her. Finally a little boy said that she was his mama, and she had "the sugar." I had no glucometer, so I basically held her head in my lap until EMS got there. Her fingerstick bs was over 300 when they first checked it.

One day driving home from work I saw an elderly man lying on the grass beside the road, with a man I thought was a firefighter beside him, but no ambulance or fire truck. I pulled over and the guy in uniform practical gibbered he was so nervous. I thought this was very weird, he's the firefighter, but no, he was actually a city inspector! He had called 911, so I just did a basic neuro check and took the guy's pulse. He was confused, diaphoretic, and had a pulse of 180. Turns out, he'd gotten tired of waiting on his wife in the doctor's office, and had decided to walk in 100+ temperatures. He'd made it several miles before he collapsed. I kept the elderly man calm and on the ground (he kept saying he was going to walk home) until the ambulance got there, but that was the extent of what I could do.


1,007 Posts

Has 6 years experience.

If they appeared to be in distress, or even just ill or pale, I'd ask if they felt okay. Don't get me wrong, I don't go around with my cape on looking for phone booth to change into and become SUPERNURSE, but I keep an eye out. If someone is not feeling well they'll let you know if they want or need help, and it's up to you both how you proceed.