Caring for a Patient in Prone Position

Speciality Classification
General Practice ( GP ) / Family Medicine
Start Date
End Date
4 minutes

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, nurses of all clinical areas may be considered to work in high acuity areas such as critical care environments (DoH 2020). General nurses will be working alongside critical care trained nurses and may need to assist in the care of a patient who may be in a prone position.

What is Prone Ventilation?

The prone position is a body position in which the patient lies flat on the stomach with their limbs unextended. Prone ventilation is the delivery of ventilation to a patient in this position (Biology Dictionary 2018; Malhotra & Kacmarek 2019).

Mechanical ventilation is usually delivered with the patient in the supine position, however, a patient with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) may be manoeuvred into the prone position to assist with oxygenation when other traditional or advanced modes of ventilation have not been successful. The patient may be hypoxic (Malhotra & Kacmarek 2019).

Prone positioning improves gas exchange by reducing dorsal lung compression and improving lung perfusion. It also assists in moving secretions using gravity to assist in alveoli recruitment and improve oxygenation (Malhotra & Kacmarek 2019).

The effects of prone ventilation can include:

  • Improved bronchial secretion drainage;
  • Improved gas exchange (oxygenation); and
  • Increased alveoli recruitment.

(Malhotra & Kacmarek 2019)

Note: Manual prone positioning must always be performed with multiple medical and critical care nurses as it can cause haemodynamic instability whilst turning (Koulouras et al. 2016).

The following article is only intended as a guide. Always refer to your organisation’s policies on caring for a patient in a prone position.


Skills Needed to Care for a Patient in Prone Position
  • Certification as a critical care nurse;
  • Knowledge (upskilling) about caring for a critically ill patient;
  • A moderate understanding of the haemodynamic implications of caring for a patient;
  • A sound understanding of the surrounding critical care environment and equipment in use, such as central venous catheters;
  • Training in basic life support or advanced life support; and
  • An understanding of airway management principles.

(CICM 2011; Oliveira et al. 2017)


Caring for a Patient in Prone Position

Patients receiving prone ventilation are acutely unwell and will be mechanically ventilated and on life-supporting medications. All safety measures must be considered along with contingency plans so you are prepared for potential deterioration.

When coming onto a shift to care for a patient who is already in the prone position, the following safety check should be conducted:

  • Perform hand hygiene and don personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Bedside handover must be obtained to ensure all care and plans have been communicated to the primary nurse.
  • Perform bed safety area checks and patient assessment.
    • Locate the emergency trolley in the clinical area.
    • Check that oxygen and suctioning is working.
    • Perform air viva check (bag and mask) for ventilating the patient if there are complications with the mechanical ventilator. This acts as a temporary ventilator until the issue has been rectified.
    • Assess airway, endotracheal placement and ties, ensure mouth care has been performed, check for pressure areas on lips and ensure the endotracheal tube is moved once per shift to minimise the risk of injury.
    • A five-lead cardiac monitor should be connected to the patient. This may be difficult to see due to the prone positioning. Seek assistance from a fellow clinician to certify lead placement or ensure the cardiac rhythm strip demonstrates correct electrophysiology.
    • Ensure non-invasive blood pressure cuff is attached to the patient.
    • Ensure the pulse oximeter probe is attached to the patient to ensure continuous monitoring of oxygen saturation. This is vital to ensure the patient's oxygen supply is therapeutic for the patient's condition at all times.
    • There should be safe placements of all central venous catheters, arterial catheters, urethral catheter, nasogastric tubing, drain tubes, continuous venovenous haemofitration (CVVH) and ventilator tubes. They should all be free from potential occlusion. This is important as it could have serious implications if medications and therapies are unable to be delivered, resulting in a medical emergency.
    • Check the central venous catheters, arterial line and peripheral line site for any signs of infection as per hospital protocol (read: How to Assess a Peripheral Intravenous (IV) Cannula).
    • Traceback all lines to pumps to ensure the right medication is on the right line. Refer to the hospital’s medication and critical care manuals to ensure there are no drug interactions.
    • Ensure lines are all labelled with the correct medication.
    • Ensure all lines are free from any occlusion.
    • Check mechanical ventilation modes, settings and alarms to ensure the therapy is administered correctly. A ventilator check must be performed with a critically trained clinician, nurse or doctor.
    • Perform a safety check of the continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) if applicable, to be checked by a critically trained nurse or doctor.
    • Head-to-toe assessment must be performed, commencing from the central nervous system. The respiratory system, cardiac system, gastrointestinal system and renal system should be assessed, and a skin integrity check should be performed.
    • Pressure area care on a critically ill patient is imperative to ensure all bony prominences are protected to decrease the risk of skin tears, skin break down and pressure injuries.
  • You may need the necessary equipment for specialised diagnostic or therapeutic procedures (e.g. renal replacement therapy, intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation, echocardiography, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).

    (CICM 2011; Resus Review 2015; Oliveira et al. 2017; Mount Sinai Health System 2020)


    Possible Complications

    Though infrequent, the complications of prone positioning can be serious, and the manoeuvre requires skill and teamwork. However, with appropriately trained and experienced staff, these risks are generally mitigated (Oliveira et al. 2017).

    You should be aware of the following possible complications:

    • Haemodynamic changes that may result in hypoperfusion, a range of ophthalmologic conditions, central nervous system lesions, peripheral nerve compression injuries, compartment syndrome and pressure ulcers.
    • Displacement of the endotracheal tube, resulting in hypoxaemia and decrease in ventilation. To protect the airway you must use an air viva to deliver oxygen to the patient until help arrives. You can do this by using the facemask attachment and connecting it straight on the endotracheal tube, depending on the situation. If unsure, always call for assistance.
    • Arterial blood gases must be obtained to assess the respiratory and metabolic profile when a patient is deteriorating.
    • sputum plug may accumulate in the endotracheal tube. The patient will become hypoxic and require high doses of oxygen and immediate medical treatment. The patient must have a humidification circuit applied to ensure patency of the tube at all times. Humidification must always be applied at the commencement of mechanical ventilation to decrease sputum plugs.
    • Hypoxia - you may need to increase oxygen therapy and ventilate the patient with air viva, and call for medical assistance.
    • Medication lines occluding - you should traceback lines and identify the issue, and ask for help if patient haemodynamics are declining.
    • The patient may be in cardiac arrest. CPR must commence immediately on the patient when in a prone position to optimise blood flow and perfuse vital organs. You must refer to the protocols from your hospital.

    (DePasse et al. 2015; Zou et al. 2017)

    Always Remember...
    • You should assist with improving oxygenation along with ventilatory support;
    • Ensure all bed safety checks are carried out;
    • Perform a thorough head-to-toe assessment;
    • Call for assistance when a patient deteriorates; and
    • Treat the signs and symptoms of the patient (e.g. if patient oxygen saturations are decreasing and hypoxic, give oxygen to the patient.)
    Additional Resources
    • Mount Sinai Health System, Prone Positioning for the COVID-19 Patient,
    • CICM, Minimum Standards for Intensive Care Units, al%20Documents/IC-1-Minimum-Standards-for-Intensive-Care-Units.pdf
    Multiple Choice Questions Q1. Why is a patient put into a prone position?
  • To improve oxygenation.
  • It’s more comfortable for the patient.
  • It improves ventilation and oxygenation.
  • Q2. What is the first thing you should do after you receive a bedside handover?
  • Bed area safety checks.
  • Head-to-toe assessment.
  • Patient pressure area care.
  • Q3. True or false? A patient may be manoeuvred into the prone position when other modes of ventilation have not been successful.
  • True
  • False

    • Australian Government Department of Health 2020, Training More Nurses for Critical Care, Australian Government Department of Health, viewed 9 April 2020, itical-care-0
    • Biology Dictionary 2018, Prone Position, Biology Dictionary, viewed 9 April 2020,
    • College of Intensive Care Medicine 2011, Minimum Standards for Intensive Care Units, College of Intensive Care Medicine, viewed 9 April 2020, onal%20Documents/IC-1-Minimum-Standards-for-Intensive-Care-Units.pdf
    • D ePasse, J, Palumbo, M A, Haque, M, Eberson, C P & Daniels, A H 2015, ‘Complications Associated with Prone Positioning in Elective Spinal Surgery’, World J Orthop, vol. 6 no. 3, viewed 14 April 2020,
    • Koulouras, V, Papathanakos, G, Papathanasiou, A & Nakos, G 2016, ‘Efficacy of Prone Position in Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Patients: A Pathophysiology-based Review’, World J Crit Care Med, viewed 9 April 2020,
    • Malhotra, A & Kacmarek, R 2019, Prone ‘Ventilation for Adult Patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome’, UpToDate, viewed 9 April 2020,
    • Mount Sinai Health System 2020, Prone Positioning for the COVID-19 Patient, online video, 31 March, viewed 14 April 2020,
    • Oliveira, V M et al., ‘Safe Prone Checklist: Construction and Implementation of a Tool for Performing the Prone Maneuver’, Rev Bras Ter Intensiva, viewed 9 April 2020,
    • Resus Review 2015, The Rise of Prone Positioning, Resus Review, viewed 14 April 2020,
    • Zou, W, Shao, J, Li, L, He, Z & Guo, Q 2017, ‘A Randomized Comparison of the Prone Ventilation Endotracheal Tube Versus the Traditional Endotracheal Tube in Adult Patients Undergoing Prone Position Surgery’, Sci Rep, viewed 14 April 2020,


    (Answers: c, a, a)



    Ausmed Editorial Team

    Ausmed’s Editorial team is committed to providing high-quality and thoroughly researched content to our readers, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All articles are developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and peer reviewed where necessary, undergoing a yearly review to ensure all healthcare information is kept up to date. See Educator Profile


    Online Learning
    Caring for a Patient in Prone Position
    Speciality Classification
    General Practice ( GP ) / Family Medicine
    Provider Type
    Education Provider
    4 minutes
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    End Date
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    4 minutes of cpd
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