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Lite heavyweight BP machine

The Smartsigns Lite electronic blood pressure monitor proves to be a tough customer, finds Dr Gio Caranci

Model: Smartsigns Lite 500-BAT (mains/battery)

There are many electronic blood pressure monitors around at the moment, but this one from Huntleigh Healthcare is a very different unit from any I have used in the past.

The Smartsigns Lite SL500-BAT is a substantial piece of kit that is clearly aimed at consulting or treatment room use. It can be used as a desktop machine, but is equally at home on the supplied wall mount or on an optional mobile stand. The monitor and its accessories all seem built to last, and it has a solid presence about it - the appellation 'Lite' certainly doesn't apply to its weight.

LEDs, not LCD

Unusually for a blood pressure monitor, it does not use a liquid crystal display, but instead relies on coloured LEDs. The systolic and diastolic pressures are in red, the pulse rate is in green, and the timing cycle and reading count is in amber.

The units come in different versions that are either mains powered, battery powered or run on rechargeable batteries and the mains. There is a single standard adult cuff, with a neat screw fixing for attaching it to the monitor. There are four other cuff sizes available from a small child's to an extra large adult's. The Super Lite version (the SL510, illustrated) includes an electronic thermometer.

Five plastic blister switches at the front of the unit control the monitor. The on/off switch is at the back. Once the unit is switched on, and the cuff is placed on the patient, the green switch activates the pump and measurement begins. If you need to stop the process, there is a conveniently-placed auto-stop button. Up to 99 previous reading scan be stored, and the review and clear buttons apply to the data in the memory.

The cuff pressure is displayed in real time as the cuff both inflates and deflates, and an accuracy of +/-5mmHg is claimed by the manufacturer.

A novel feature of the unit is the option of either manual or automatic mode. The automatic mode is designed to take six measurements. It discards the first and then displays an average of the last five readings. The time between each reading can be varied.

I used the single manual mode the most, but when we tried out using it in the treatment room, the automatic mode was particularly useful, especially with patients whose first reading is often artificially high. The operation is simple, and lends itself to everyday use by nursing staff. It is not too noisy, and this helps keep the anxiety levels down.

With any electronic machine it is important that the patient keeps still, but talking is allowed and doesn't produce an error. It seems tough enough to cope with heavy and frequent use.

Error messages

Most electronic gadgets these days try to help you out if there are problems. The systolic pressure display window can show no fewer than 20 error codes that are explained in the manual and on a laminated summary tab for easy reference. Some of the codes are a little worrying, such as E23, where you are advised to check the patient manually for a blood pressure and pulse. This seems to subtly imply that the patient might be dead, but I think I would notice. Reassuringly, in practice I found there was rarely a problem.

The optional mobile stand consists of a pole with a star-shaped wheeled base. I thought this particular configuration had something of the intensive care unit about it, and it certainly looked the business. I think what impressed me most about this new range of BP monitors is their substantial appearance. They look tough and are built to last, but at the same time are easy to use. I was particularly impressed by using the mains rather than batteries, because the readings were rapid and the pump was quieter. The quality of the product makes it good value at the price.

Our independent GP reviewer noted:

- This blood pressure monitor is different from any I have used in the past.

- The machine and the accessories all seem built to last, and it has a solid presence about it.

- Readings are shown on coloured LED displays.

- A novel feature of the unit is the automatic mode, where six measurements are taken and the last five are averaged.

- The systolic pressure display window can show no fewer than 20 error codes.

- The mains model was preferred, because the readings were rapid and the pump was quieter.

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