Stable is Not a Condition

“The patient is in stable condition.” You hear it all the time. In movies. On TV. In the newspaper. During news hour on the radio. Just one problem: stable is not a condition (“condition”¬†used here = the medical state of a patient).

Think about it. Stable simply implies firm; not wavering; steady. It doesn’t do a good enough job of describing someone’s medical state. You can be just fine at home, asleep on your couch and be stable. You can be missing an arm, both legs and likely to die in a week and be stable. You can be dead and be stable!

Stable is not a condition. So what is? Well, that depends. Many health care organizations use the American Hospital Association’s definitions. They are:

  • Undetermined – Patient is awaiting physician and/or assessment.
  • Good – Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable. Indicators are excellent.
  • Fair – Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious, but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.
  • Serious – Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.
  • Critical – Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.

Vital signs are indicators such as pulse, blood pressure, respiration and temperature. You generally want those to be stable and within normal limits, and it makes sense to use “stable” in that context. But not when describing the overall medical state of a patient.

So consider yourself educated. Stable is not a condition. Use Good, Fair, Serious or Critical. Maybe on some future date I’ll do a post on why we even use these terms to describe a patient’s condition in the first place.

Image credit: zetson