What Is an Infusion Pump?

Mary McMahon

An infusion pump is a specialty pump which has been designed to deliver controlled doses of medications and nutrition to patients. Infusion pumps are used in hospitals all over the world to deliver everything from nutrition to sick patients who cannot eat to pain medications used to manage pain after surgery. They vary in cost and configuration, depending on the functionality needed, and are also available for purchase or lease by patients who need to use a pump at home.

Infusion pumps may be used in conjunction with intravenous ports placed just under the skin.
Infusion pumps may be used in conjunction with intravenous ports placed just under the skin.

The design of an infusion pump allows it to deliver very small amounts of medication over time through an intravenous drip. This can be used to deliver low targeted doses to patients. When a patient needs a prolonged infusion of medication, a pump is often better than a nurse or other medical care provider, because it moves at a slow, steady rate. Using a pump also relieves care providers of the need to be constantly at the patient's bedside.

Many infusion pumps are designed to deliver medication to patients who are undergoing operations.
Many infusion pumps are designed to deliver medication to patients who are undergoing operations.

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In addition to delivering a slow dose of a medication, an infusion pump can also be used to deliver medication on a timed schedule, or to administer patient-controlled medication. Pain management, for example, may be accomplished by giving patient control of the pump. When the patient is in pain, a clicker can be used to introduce more medication to the patient's intravenous line through the infusion pump. The pump usually has a failsafe to prevent overdosing.

An ambulatory infusion pump allows medications to be delivered while patients are transferred for medical imaging studies.
An ambulatory infusion pump allows medications to be delivered while patients are transferred for medical imaging studies.

When an infusion pump is connected to a patient's intravenous line, it can be programmed with a variety of settings to control the dosage of the medication, the administration rate, and the timing. Since many pumps operate very quietly, they have buzzers and alarms which light up when the pump is not working properly, to alert people to problems which may not be identified by ear. The pump can also sound an alarm when the patient's intravenous line becomes kinked, occluding the flow of fluid.

Many infusion pumps are designed for bedbound patients.
Many infusion pumps are designed for bedbound patients.

While many infusion pumps are designed for bedbound patients or patients in the operating room, there are ambulatory versions available. An ambulatory pump allows a patient to move around while the pump is in use. This can be beneficial for patients who would feel frustrated being stuck in bed, and it can help patients get some light exercise by walking or stretching while they are in the hospital, which can promote healing and general good health. This also allows medications to be delivered while patients are transferred, as might be the case when a medical imaging study needs to be performed or when a patient needs to change rooms.

Infusion pumps are most often used in hospitals to administer pain medications to patients who are unable to take them orally.
Infusion pumps are most often used in hospitals to administer pain medications to patients who are unable to take them orally.
An infusion pump provides small amounts of medication through an intravenous drip.
An infusion pump provides small amounts of medication through an intravenous drip.

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