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What Is an Intravenous Infusion Pump?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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An intravenous infusion pump is a medical device that can deliver a precise amount of medication over any period of time. These pumps are computer controlled and programmable by hospital staff; in some cases, patients have control over how much medication they receive. The device is an especially popular method for administering epidural medication during childbirth. Despite countless safety features built into new models, deaths due to device malfunction have led to governmental investigations.

This kind of pump fills a vital need in modern medicine: the ability to accurately deliver any amount of intravenous medication over any amount of time. For most patients, medication enters through the body through an IV site in the hand. It is possible for the medication to be administered directly or be mixed with another IV solution entering the patient's body. Having the pump control the infusion allows physicians and nurses to focus on other areas of patient care.

The intravenous infusion pump is a programmable device with some sort of user interface. After readying the solution, a medical professional selects how much liquid should enter the patient's body over a given time period. This amount can be as little as 0.1 milliliters per hour, a dose a human cannot give without mechanical assistance. Once the intravenous infusion pump delivers a dose of medication, it gives off a signal such as a loud beep.

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Childbirth is a common event where an intravenous infusion pump is necessary. The pump is needed for giving an epidural, the administration of painkilling medication directly into the spinal column. The device's precision is necessary, as too much medication can complicate the birthing process.

Most intravenous infusion pumps work on the model described in the previous two paragraphs. Yet for medications meant to reduce pain, a patient may have some control over how much medication he or she receives. In most cases a physician or nurse sets a maximum amount of medication a patient can receive in an hour or day. He or she then gives the patient a button to press when pain is extreme. Once the patient has self-administered the predetermined limit, he or she will receive no more medication despite continually pressing the button.

Modern intravenous infusion pumps have many safety features built in. Alarms activate if air is present in the IV tube or if a clot develops within the needle. Despite these and other safety features, malfunctioning pumps do cause injuries and deaths. In recent years, the U.S. government has investigated these issues and proposed stricter regulations regarding pumps in a medical setting.

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