Thermometers are used on every ward, in every hospital, on every patient, every single day. It is very important to measure temperature for a wide range of healthcare actions.
Normal body temperature is around 98.6°F (37°C), on average. However, some people have a body temperature that’s a bit warmer or cooler than average, and that can be normal for the individual.
Having a temperature that’s much warmer or cooler than your usual temperature, however, may indicate some kind of health problem, such as a fever, infection, or hypothermia.
Different Ways of Measuring Body Temperature
Body temperature is often measured by placing a thermometer in the mouth. But there are four other ways to take body temperature, and these involve different body parts:
- ear (tympanic)
- under the armpit (axillary)
Digital Contact Thermometers
Digital thermometers have LCD displays that allow easy reading of temperature and beepers to signal when it is time to withdraw the thermometer.
They work by using heat sensors that determine body temperature using the heat transfer phenomenon known as conduction. They can be used to take temperature readings in the mouth, rectum, or armpit, and require contact with the patient. These methods can be uncomfortable for the patient and cause disturbance if they are trying to rest or sleep.
The advantages of digital thermometers are that they are inexpensive, easy to read, require very little maintenance and give an accurate reading. The disadvantages are that they get damaged easily and the battery typically runs out quickly, not to mention the risk of cross-infection from contact with the patient.
Ear thermometers measure temperature by detecting infra-red radiation emitted from eardrum tissue, which gives a reading close to that of inside the body. Despite using infrared, they also require contact with the patient’s skin as the thermometer is inserted into the ear canal.
Typically, this means nurses and healthcare professionals need to use plastic probe covers for the thermometer, changed between each patient, to prevent cross-infection. This can be time consuming and costly.
Non-Contact Infrared Thermometers
Forehead thermometers, also known as non-contact infrared thermometers, measure the temperature from a distance. Some infrared thermometers have laser pointers to help target the measurement.
Infrared thermometers work based on a phenomenon called black body radiation. Anything at a temperature above absolute zero has molecules inside of it moving around. The higher the temperature, the faster the molecules move. As they move, the molecules emit infrared radiation, a type of electromagnetic radiation beyond the low energy end of the visible spectrum of light. Infrared thermometers detect and measure this radiation.
Non-contact infrared thermometers are often used in circumstances when other sorts of thermometers are not practical. Many hospitals are moving to non-contact thermometers because they are much more practical in that they reduce the risk of infection, do not disturb the patient, nor do they require single use plastics. Additionally, readings can be obtained in a matter of seconds which saves nurses’ time.
Many cheap non-contact infrared thermometers only measure surface temperature and can be highly inaccurate. The TRITEMP™ has innovative technology which measures the infrared energy and converts this to core body temperature, with accuracy to +/-0.2°C.
It is important for hospitals to consider a variety of factors before making a thermometer choice, such as accuracy, warranty period, breakage rates, ease of use, and whether the device is medically graded, as well as the training and support on offer.