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Everyday EMS
by Greg Friese

Respiratory Rate Assessment

One of my first EMT partners always stopped in the doorway as I approached the patient's chair or bed. I would begin my assessment and a little more than 30 seconds later, he would walk over to me and say, "The patient's respiratory rate is…"

I learned from my partner that it is often easier to count a patient’s respiratory rate by looking and listening from a few feet away. Look for chest rise and fall, clothing bunching, and nose or lip movement. Listen for the sounds of exhalation and inhalation. Counting respirations from the doorway also eliminates the awkwardness of staring at a patient’s face or chest for 30 seconds from less than a foot away.

Share your vital sign assessment tips and questions in the comments area.

About the author

Greg Friese is Editor-in-Chief of He is an educator, author, paramedic, and marathon runner. Ask questions or submit tip ideas to Greg by e-mailing him at

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