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When caring for a patient we use the standard ABCDE approach.

With the ABCDE approach, it is the same as other critical care for patients. ABCDE still stands for:

  • Airway
  • Breathing
  • Circulation 
  • Disability
  • Exposure to assess and treat the patient.

We will look at the ABCDE breakdown in the next video, but initially, complete a full assessment and also re-assess regularly.  Treat life-threatening problems before moving to the next part of the assessment. The entire time, also assess the effects of treatment you are giving.

It is very important to call for help early. This could be a course of action such as calling for an ambulance or resuscitation team. Use bystanders to assist you and to control the scene. When professional help arrives, communicate and use them effectively to ensure that monitoring and treatment occur simultaneously.

The aim of the initial treatments is to keep the patient alive and achieve some clinical improvement. This will buy time for further treatment and expert help. It can take a few minutes for treatments to work so keep calm and observant.

The ABCDE approach can be used irrespective of your training and experience in clinical assessment or treatment. The detail of your assessment and what treatments you give will depend on your clinical knowledge and skills. If you recognise a problem or are unsure of what to do, call for help.

Finally, let's review the initial stages before we move on to the ABCDE approach.

As with all emergency care, ensure personal safety. First, look at the patient, in general, to see if the patient ‘looks unwell’. If the patient is awake ask, “How are you?” If they appear unconscious, tap them and ask, “Are you all right?” If they respond normally, you know the airway is open. If they speak only in short sentences, they may have breathing problems. Failure of the patient to respond is a marker of critical illness.

Monitor the vital signs early. Attach a pulse oximeter, ECG monitor, and non-invasive blood pressure monitor to all critically ill patients as soon as possible. Only if trained to do so, insert an intravenous cannula as soon as possible.