Comparison of Temporal Artery Versus Rectal Temperature in Emergency Department Patients Who Are Unable to Participate in Oral Temperature Assessment

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In the emergency department, pediatric and geriatric patients who present with illnesses and are unable to participate in oral evaluation of temperature must undergo a rectal temperature (RT) assessment. This study asks if a temporal artery temperature (TAT) measure can supplant the RT measure.


A convenience sample, using a within-subject design, was used to evaluate the efficacy of TAT compared with RT in patients ≤ 3 and ≥ 65 years of age, who were unable to participate in oral temperature assessments.


Instrument reliability of the TAT is adequate for both the pediatric and geriatric populations. An unadjusted TAT did not provide acceptable temperature measurements. We also found that adjusting a TAT reading by adding -17.22°C (1° F) rendered the TAT average (either mean or median) adequately similar to RT averages for research purposes for both pediatric and geriatric groups.


No influence was detected on the differences between RT and TAT due to age, sex, or emergency severity index (ESI) score in patients or due to profession, years of education, or years of experience in caregivers for either the pediatric or geriatric groups. Furthermore, the adjusted TAT reading could detect fever in individual patients adequately in both the pediatric and geriatric groups. However, the adjusted TAT readings were too frequently divergent from RT readings to be used to measure temperature in individual patients for both pediatric and geriatric groups.

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