Rural & Remote First Aid

 Checking for a response from a patient

Checking for a response from a patient

Getting a response from the patient is one of those topics that is very easily glossed over in First Aid Training. When considering our Primary Survey (DRS ABCD) it is very easy to view the R for Response as just a yes/no tick box.

But there is a bit more to it, so this is a short post on how to get a response and some things to look for in your patient.

Firstly, a reminder that we need to be vigilant for any potential Dangers prior to moving on to the response phase. When approaching the patient simply talk to them and then instigate some form of touch. Keep in mind an important safety factor. If you suspect the person may be drug affected, you need to be careful about your own safety. So make sure you stay out of swinging arm distance. Indeed, the patient doesn’t have to be drug affected; they simply need to have hit their head to have an altered conscious state which may include aggression, so just take care.

An easy and common acronym that could help you remember a good Response assessment is the COWS acronym.

Can you hear me?

Open your eyes.

What’s your name?

Squeeze my hand.

If you don’t remember these, don’t stress, as long as you remember as you approach them to ask some questions they can answer. And then look for some sort of motor response or physical action as a result of your input. And that’s the important part ……. as a result of your input. If the patient is lying there groaning and you ask them questions and ask them to squeeze your hand and they don’t do any of that, they just continue groaning, is that a response? No. It’s just a noise. You need to correlate the response to your input. Do they look or sound like they’re trying to answer your question? Do they squeeze your hand on demand? These are the determinants of a response as opposed to an inappropriate muscle action or a noise.

When the brain is low on oxygen there are any number of inappropriate signals that can be sent to the muscle groups. So that’s why it’s important to make sure that the response is exactly that. A response.

Make sure you document what sort of response you get. Such as; Was the answer accurate? Was the message clear or was it slurred? Was the answer completely inappropriate to the question? Or, could they only respond with motor skills and no verbal? These details are very important pieces of information to pass on to emergency services, if needed.

I hope this post helps you in some way. As ever if you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0491 057 339 or email

Take care, and stay safe out there.

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