What is the Difference Between an Infusion Pump & an IV Pump?

by Sara Alvarado

Updated December 19, 2023
Infusion and IV pumps are similar devices. In fact, the names are often used interchangeably. However, there is actually an important difference between the two. Here’s what you need to know:

The term "infusion pump" generally refers to a broad category that includes various types of pumps used to deliver fluids, medications, and other solutions at a controlled and consistent rate into a patient's body.

There are three basic routes for fluid administration via an infusion pump:

● Intravenous (IV)[ Nationwide Children’s, IV (Intravenous) Therapy (online). Access 10/18/23.]
What is the Difference Between an Infusion Pump & an IV Pump
● Subcutaneous (under the skin)[ National Library of Medicine, Subcutaneous Infusion of Fluids for Hydration or Nutrition (online). Access 10/20/23. ]
What is the Difference Between an Infusion Pump & an IV Pump
● Epidural (into the epidural space around the spinal cord)[ St. Luke’s, Continuous Epidural Infusion for Pain Relief (online). Access 10/19/23.]
What is the Difference Between an Infusion Pump & an IV Pump
So, what is the difference between an infusion pump and an IV pump? An "IV pump" specifically refers to an infusion pump that is used only for intravenous administration. In other words, an IV pump is a type of infusion pump that is designed for administering medications and fluids directly into the patient's veins.

Let’s now explore this significant distinction more in-depth …

1. What Are Infusions & When Are They Typically Administered?

IV infusion pump
An infusion, in a medical context, refers to the process of delivering fluids, medications, or other solutions into a patient's body over a specified period of time.

The term "infusion" typically implies a controlled, continuous, and slow delivery of substances, as opposed to bolus administration, which is a rapid, concentrated administration.

Medical infusions are typically needed in various clinical situations. Some of the most common reasons include:
Infusions are often used to provide essential fluids and electrolytes when a person is dehydrated due to illness, surgery, or other medical conditions. This helps to maintain proper fluid balance in the body.
Many medications are administered through infusions, especially when precise dosing and a consistent rate of delivery are crucial. Common examples include antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, pain medications, and medications to manage chronic conditions like diabetes. [ US Food and Drug Administration, What is an Infusion Pump? (online). Access 10/21/23. ]
Infusions are used for enteral and parenteral nutrition. Enteral nutrition involves delivering nutrients directly into the gastrointestinal tract when a person cannot eat or digest food properly. Parenteral nutrition provides nutrients intravenously for individuals who cannot tolerate enteral nutrition.
Infusions may be used to deliver pain-relieving medications, including opioids, local anesthetics, and nerve blocks. Epidural infusions are common for managing pain during labor and after certain surgeries.
Cancer patients often receive chemotherapy through infusions to target and kill cancer cells systematically.
Infusions are used to administer blood transfusions to individuals with anemia or other blood disorders. Platelets, plasma, and clotting factors can also be delivered through infusions for individuals with specific medical conditions.
Infusions can provide antibiotics or antiviral medications for the treatment of severe infections or sepsis.
Some autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, are treated with immunosuppressive medications delivered through infusions.
Certain diagnostic tests may require the administration of contrast agents or dyes through infusions to enhance imaging studies like CT scans or MRIs.
Some chronic conditions, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or multiple sclerosis, may be managed with medications administered via infusion.
After certain surgical procedures, patients may receive infusions to help with pain management and recovery.
In emergency and critical care situations, infusions can be used to provide rapid interventions to stabilize a patient's condition, such as in cases of severe trauma, sepsis, or anaphylactic shock.
In general, infusions provide a controlled and precise means of delivering therapy to ensure that patients receive the necessary medications, fluids, or nutrients for their well-being and recovery.

2. The 3 Basic Types of Infusions

infusion pump iv pump
In order to better understand the difference between infusion and IV pumps, it is important to know the three basic types of infusions.

There are actually several types of infusions, but the three most common are:

1.Intravenous (IV) Infusion

Intravenous infusions involve delivering fluids, medications, or other solutions directly into the patient's bloodstream through an intravenous catheter. This is one of the most direct and rapid methods of administration.

IV infusions are used for a wide range of purposes, including hydration, administration of antibiotics, pain management, chemotherapy, and many other medical treatments.

2.Subcutaneous Infusion

Subcutaneous infusions involve delivering fluids or medications into the subcutaneous tissue, which is the layer of tissue just beneath the skin.

Subcutaneous infusions are commonly used for administering medications like insulin, heparin, or some pain medications. They are generally slower in absorption than IV infusions.

3.Epidural Infusion

Epidural infusions involve delivering medications, such as pain relief drugs or steroids, into the epidural space around the spinal cord.

Epidural infusions are often used for pain management during labor and delivery (epidural anesthesia), as well as for managing chronic pain conditions, post-operative pain, and some neurological disorders.

Now that we know a little more about infusions and the three most common types of infusions it may be easier to understand the difference between infusion pumps and IV pumps.

3. The Big Difference

As we touched on previously, the main difference between infusion pumps and IV pumps is their intended purpose and the differing designs that support that purpose.

Infusion pumps can be used for a broader range of purposes, including intravenous therapy, enteral (feeding tube) nutrition, pain management, chemotherapy, and more. They can be programmed to deliver fluids at a precise rate and may have various features and modes to accommodate different administration needs.

But an IV pump is specifically designed for intravenous therapy, making it ideal for delivering medications, blood products, or other intravenous solutions directly into a patient's bloodstream.

That means IV pumps are designed with a focus on intravenous therapy. They are typically smaller and more portable, making them suitable for use in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings where intravenous medications are commonly administered.

4. More Differences & Similarities Between
the Two Devices

The features of both infusion pumps and IV pumps can vary widely depending on the model and manufacturer. Some IV pumps may have specialized features for IV therapy, while infusion pumps are more likely to have a broader range of features to accommodate various routes and medication delivery requirements.

In many cases, both infusion pumps and IV pumps can be compact, portable, and mounted on an IV pole or attached to a patient's bed. They often feature a display screen for programming and monitoring, as well as a control interface for healthcare providers to set infusion parameters. However, the appearance can vary significantly between different models.
What is the Difference Between an Infusion Pump & an IV Pump
To distinguish between the two devices, it's important to read the labels and markings on the device or consult the user manual. Manufacturers typically label their devices clearly to indicate their intended use.

The best way to understand the difference between infusion pumps and IV pumps is to view IV pumps as a subset of infusion pumps specifically designed for intravenous therapy.

5. Whether You Select an IV Pump or an Infusion Pump, They Both Come with Many Benefits:

infusion pump iv pump
Infusion and IV pumps offer several benefits in healthcare settings, making them valuable tools for the controlled and precise administration of fluids, medications, and other solutions. [ US Food and Drug Administration, Infusion Pumps (online). Access 10/19/23] Some of the key benefits of using of these pumps include:
They can accurately control the rate and volume of medication or fluids being delivered to the patient. This precision is crucial for medications with narrow therapeutic windows or those that require constant, steady dosing.
The automation and programming features of these pumps minimize the potential for human errors in dosing, which can lead to improved patient safety and outcomes.
These pumps allow healthcare providers to customize treatment plans by adjusting infusion rates, bolus doses, and other parameters, ensuring that the therapy is tailored to the patient's specific needs.
Many modern pumps are equipped with monitoring and alarm systems to alert healthcare providers to potential issues such as occlusions, air in the line, or low battery, helping to maintain the patient's well-being.
Infusion and IV pumps can deliver medications and fluids at a consistent rate, reducing discomfort for the patient and allowing for a more predictable and comfortable treatment experience.
Automation and programmability of these pumps reduce the need for manual calculations and frequent checks, allowing healthcare professionals to focus on other aspects of patient care.
By accurately controlling medication delivery, these pumps help minimize waste and ensure that the patient receives the intended dosage without unnecessary excess.
Patients are more likely to adhere to treatment plans when medications and fluids are administered consistently through infusion and IV pumps, potentially leading to better treatment outcomes.
These pumps can accommodate complex therapies such as chemotherapy, total parenteral nutrition (TPN), and continuous pain management, making them essential for a wide range of medical conditions.
Many infusion and IV pumps are compact and portable, allowing for greater mobility of patients who require intravenous or other types of infusions.
Both types of pumps often have built-in data logging and documentation features, which can assist in tracking the patient's response to treatment, monitoring medication usage, and facilitating compliance with regulatory requirements.
Also, don’t forget that infusion pumps can be used for various routes of administration, including intravenous, subcutaneous, epidural, and enteral (tube feeding). This versatility makes them suitable for a wide range of clinical scenarios and patient needs.

In summary, both infusion and IV pumps provide precise and customizable medication delivery, reduce the risk of errors, and improve patient comfort and safety. They are essential tools in modern healthcare, allowing for the effective administration of a wide range of therapies and treatments.

The choice between the two depends on your specific needs. Infusion pumps offer greater versatility, while IV pumps are great for just intravenous infusions.

References

1. Nationwide Children’s, IV (Intravenous) Therapy (online). Access 10/18/23.
2. National Library of Medicine, Subcutaneous Infusion of Fluids for Hydration or Nutrition (online). Access 10/20/23.
3. St. Luke’s, Continuous Epidural Infusion for Pain Relief (online). Access 10/19/23.
4. US Food and Drug Administration, What is an Infusion Pump? (online). Access 10/21/23.
5. US Food and Drug Administration, Infusion Pumps (online). Access 10/19/23
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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