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Medical / Clinical Tip

From the Editor
by Greg Friese, Editor-in-Chief

Respiratory rate assessment is best done from a distance

Updated February 5, 2015

Assess the patient's breathing with a look and listen approach from the doorway

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…"

Look and listen from a distance

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, MS, NRP, 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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