What to Know About Ambulatory Infusion Pump

by Sara Alvarado

Updated February 18, 2024
Have you ever needed to stay in a hospital overnight for infusion therapy and wished there was a way to escape it?

Well, there is actually a way to skip hospitalization if you need overnight or long-term drug infusion: An ambulatory infusion pump.

According to iData Research, these pumps have become more common among patients with chronic and acute illnesses who need regular medication.

But what is an ambulatory infusion pump? Which patients need ambulatory IV pumps, and how do they work?

Stick with me to the end of this article for answers to all these questions.

1. What is an Ambulatory Infusion Pump?

ambulatory infusion pump
An ambulatory infusion pump is a small-sized infusion device that runs on batteries to deliver antibiotics or chemotherapies straight into a patient’s body. The pump delivers the medication in set doses and at intervals determined by your doctor.

It is an ambulatory infusion device because its portable size allows the patient to clip it to clothing or carry it around in a tiny bag. As a result, even persons with chronic illnesses can go on with their daily lives without having to be hospitalized every time they need to receive therapy.

So, what is the difference between an infusion pump and an ambulatory infusion pump?

The ambulatory pump is one of the many types of infusion pumps. All IV pumps deliver fluids and medications directly to a patient’s cardiovascular system with enhanced safety and accuracy and under controlled conditions.

The only aspect that sets ambulatory infusion pumps aside from other IV pump types is that they are designed to be worn by the patient and taken around wherever s/he goes. This way, the patient can receive the medication in programmed dosages at set intervals and timeframes.

For the same reasons, we can consider ambulatory infusion pumps as specialty pumps recommended for particular categories of patients.

2. Who Needs an Ambulatory Infusion Pump?

ambulatory infusion pump
Patients in hospital or home-based care with long-term health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases who require continued medication are eligible candidates for portable IV therapy.

Additionally, patients needing programmed pain management medication or struggling with persistent infections or gastrointestinal conditions can also be listed for portable IV pump therapy.

Besides, ambulatory infusion pumps are also handy in emergency medical situations where larger stationary infusion pumps would not help.

All these situations benefit from ambulatory infusion pumps because of the way the devices function.

3. How an Ambulatory Infusion Pump Works

ambulatory infusion pump
When your doctor decides that a portable IV pump is good for your infusion therapy needs, you and the attending nurse will follow these steps.

Step 1.Preparing to Use an Ambulatory Infusion Pump

This preparatory step entails introducing an intravenous (IV) catheter into your body. The type of catheter depends on the nature and duration of the infusion therapy.

Catheters used with ambulatory infusion pumps are those best suited for long-term treatments and include the following:
  • PICC line: A Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter is also called a Percutaneous Indwelling Central Catheter. It is a long catheter introduced to a patient’s body through a peripheral vein of the arm into a main vein in the body.
  • Peripheral IV: A short plastic catheter inserted in a vein through the skin. It’s usually inserted in the hand, elbow, and in some infant cases, the foot or scalp.
  • Tunneled catheter: A thin hollow tube introduced under the skin at the neck and ending into a large vein or at a different location of the skin to serve as an IV access catheter. Tunneled catheters can stay in position for months, unlike the non-tunneled models that must be replaced after days or a week.
  • Implanted port: An implanted port is a thin tube with a small port that’s usually introduced into your body at the chest when you need long-term infusion treatment. The catheter ends in a vein.
ambulatory infusion pump
Whichever of these types of catheters your doctor advises you to use, it is best to wear loose clothing for greater comfort. Also, tops with buttons at the front and short-sleeve or sleeveless ones facilitate ease of access by the nurse or clinician.

Ambulatory IV pumps can also administer drugs under the skin (subcutaneous) or close to the spinal cord (epidural).

Step 2.Programming and Connecting the Ambulatory Infusion Pump
The nurse programs your ambulatory IV pump to deliver the medication in the set dosage and time. The pump is then connected to your IV catheter and turned on.

Step 3.Caring for the Ambulatory Pump While the Infusion is Ongoing
Your nurse will explain how long you need to wear/carry the pump, how to take care of the pump to prevent issues such as spills, and what to do in case of an emergency.

When using an ambulatory infusion pump, you know there’s a problem when you hear an alarm and see an error message on the pump screen. For example, the pump might beep and show the error message “service due.” In this case, press the Start/Stop button to halt the infusion and contact the hospital immediately.

Other alarm messages on an ambulatory pump include “error”, “low/depleted battery”, “air in line”, and “high pressure.”

You’ll find these alarm messages and additional ambulatory IV pump care instructions in the pamphlet your hospital or attending nurse gives you alongside the pump. The booklet also contains contact details for use in case of an emergency.

Step 4.Starting or Stopping the Ambulatory Infusion Pump

Your nurse will start the ambulatory IV pump once s/he does the programming and connects the pump to the IV catheter. Don’t stop the pump unless there’s an emergency, such as a spill or low batteries that need replacement.

Stopping the pump will disrupt the drug delivery programming. If you have doubts about stopping the pump, talk to your nurse or doctor first.

4. Concluding Summary

ambulatory infusion pump
Ambulatory infusion pumps are portable devices that deliver medication to patients with chronic illnesses or those requiring long-term infusion therapies.

Patients using ambulatory IV pumps can wear and carry around these pumps to allow medication delivery at set dosages and programmed intervals.

A nurse will program your ambulatory pump before connecting it to a pre-installed catheter on your body. Only stop the infusion in case of an emergency and after consulting your healthcare provider.
Article by
Sara Alvarado
Greetings, I'm Sara, a dedicated nurse and a proud contributor to the AutoInfu blog. With my firsthand experience in the world of infusion pumps, I'm here to provide you with the latest insights, expert advice, and essential updates to ensure you stay informed about the infusion pump industry.

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