What Drugs Are Most Often Administered via an Infusion Pump?

by Sara Alvarado

Updated January 8, 2024
The use of infusion pumps is skyrocketing in clinics, hospitals, wellness clinics, and other medical establishments around the world. The main driving factors in the popularity growth of infusion pumps are a rapid rise in the elderly population, an increase in surgical procedures, and technological advancements.[ Financial Market Insights, Infusion Pumps Market (online). Accessed 10/20/23.]

So, what exactly are infusion pumps, and what is it that they do?

An infusion pump is a medical device designed to deliver fluids, medications, or other solutions into a patient's body in a controlled and precise manner.[ US Food and Drug Administration, What is an Infusion Pump? (online). Accessed 10/20/23]

These devices are commonly used in healthcare settings to administer intravenous (IV) medications, but they can also be employed for various routes of administration, including subcutaneous, epidural, and enteral, among others. Key features and functions of infusion pumps include:
Infusion pumps allow healthcare providers to set and control the rate at which the fluid or medication is delivered into the patient's bloodstream. This is crucial for ensuring accurate and consistent dosing.
The pumps can be programmed to deliver specific volumes of fluid over a designated period, allowing for precise administration. [ National Library of Medicine, Administration of Drugs by Infusion Pumps in Palliative Medicine (online). Accessed 10/19/23 ]
Most infusion pumps are equipped with monitoring features and alarms that alert healthcare professionals to potential issues, such as occlusions, air in the line, low battery, or the completion of the infusion.
IV Infusion Pump
Depending on the model, infusion pumps may offer various modes of operation, including continuous infusion, intermittent infusion, bolus delivery, and patient-controlled analgesia (PCA), which allows the patient to self-administer pain medications within prescribed limits.
Infusion pumps are designed to maintain accurate and consistent flow rates, which is essential for medications with narrow therapeutic windows.
Healthcare providers can customize the pump's programming to meet the specific needs of the patient, including dosage, infusion rate, and other parameters.
Some infusion pumps are portable and lightweight, allowing for mobility within a healthcare facility or even at home for patients requiring ongoing therapy.
Many infusion pumps have built-in data logging and documentation features, allowing healthcare professionals to track the patient's response to treatment, monitor medication usage, and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements.

1. Infusion Pumps Can Deliver a Variety of Medications

icu infusion pump
Infusion pumps are used to administer a wide range of drugs and medications, and the choice of drug depends on the specific medical condition being treated.

Some of the most common drugs and types of medications that are often administered via infusion pumps include:
Antibiotics are frequently administered via infusion pumps to treat various bacterial infections, including severe respiratory, urinary tract, and bloodstream infections. [ US Pharmacist, Role of Elastomeric Infusion Pumps in Outpatient Antibiotic Therapy (online). Accessed 10/20/23.]
Chemotherapy medications are commonly delivered via infusion pumps for cancer treatment. These drugs target and destroy cancer cells, and controlled delivery is essential to minimize side effects.
Opioid pain medications, such as morphine, hydromorphone, or fentanyl, are often administered through infusion pumps for post-surgical pain management or the treatment of chronic pain conditions.[ National Library of Medicine, Constant Infusion of Morphine for Intractable Cancer Pain … (online). Accessed 10/19/23. ]
Medications used to suppress the immune system, such as cyclosporine or tacrolimus, are administered through infusion pumps to prevent transplant rejection or manage autoimmune diseases.
Medications like antiarrhythmics, beta-blockers, and other drugs used to treat heart conditions or hypertension may be delivered via infusion pumps.
Inhaled medications, such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids, can be administered via infusion pumps for patients with respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Antiemetic medications can be delivered through infusion pumps to manage nausea and vomiting, often in chemotherapy patients or those with post-operative nausea.
Medications used to prevent or treat blood clots may be administered via infusion pumps for conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism.
What Drugs Are Most Often Administered via an Infusion Pump
In addition to opioids, infusion pumps can deliver other analgesic medications, such as non-opioid pain relievers and local anesthetics for post-operative pain management.
Medications for fungal infections or parasitic diseases may be administered via infusion pumps in appropriate clinical scenarios.
Vasoactive drugs like dopamine, norepinephrine, or epinephrine are used to regulate blood pressure and circulation in critical care settings.
Biological drugs, such as monoclonal antibodies and immune modulators, are administered through infusion pumps to treat autoimmune diseases, cancer, and other conditions.
Medications used to control irregular heart rhythms, such as amiodarone, are often delivered through infusion pumps.
Antiviral drugs are delivered via infusion pumps to treat certain viral infections, such as HIV or hepatitis.
These are just a few examples, and there are many more drugs and medications administered through infusion pumps in clinical settings. The specific drug and infusion regimen are determined by the patient's medical condition and the healthcare provider's treatment plan.

2. In Addition to Medications, Infusion Pumps Also Can Deliver a Variety of Other Fluids

icu infusion pump
Here are some additional substances that infusion pumps can administer:
Intravenous fluids, including saline and dextrose solutions, are administered to maintain hydration, electrolyte balance, and blood pressure in various medical situations. [ Wisconsin Technical College System, Infusion By Pump (online). Access 10/20/23. ]
Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) is provided through infusion pumps when patients cannot obtain adequate nutrition through normal eating. It includes nutrients like amino acids, lipids, vitamins, and minerals.
Whole blood, red blood cells, platelets, and plasma are administered via infusion pumps for blood transfusions to treat anemia, clotting disorders, or severe blood loss.
Contrast agents used in diagnostic imaging studies, such as iodine-based contrast media, are sometimes administered through infusion pumps for procedures like CT scans or angiography.
Immunoglobulin therapy, which involves the infusion of antibodies to boost the immune system, is used to treat immunodeficiency disorders and some autoimmune diseases.
What Drugs Are Most Often Administered via an Infusion Pump
In addition to parenteral nutrition, infusion pumps can deliver enteral nutrition solutions directly into the gastrointestinal tract via feeding tubes, such as nasogastric or gastrostomy tubes. These solutions provide essential nutrients to individuals who cannot eat or digest food normally. [ American College of Gastroenterology, Enteral and Parental Nutrition (online). Accessed 10/21/23.]
Infusion pumps may be used to deliver hormones or hormone-releasing solutions, such as insulin for diabetes management or gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs for fertility treatments.
In Therapeutic Plasma Exchange (TPE), an infusion pump is used to separate and remove plasma from the patient's blood, replace it with replacement fluids or plasma, and then return it to the patient.
Infusion pumps are vital in delivering nutrition (and medications) to infants and young children, ensuring accurate and controlled administration for these vulnerable patients.

3. Infusion Pumps Offer Numerous Advantages

Using an infusion pump to administer medication offers several advantages, making it a preferred method for many medical treatments. One of the key advantages is precise medication delivery.

Infusion pumps provide precise control over the rate and volume of medication administered, ensuring that the patient receives the exact dosage prescribed by the healthcare provider.

Another big benefit offered by infusion pumps is reduced medication errors. Infusion pumps’ automation and programmability reduce the risk of human errors in dosing, such as miscalculation or incorrect administration. This enhances patient safety and reduces the potential for adverse drug events.

Additional benefits offered by infusion pumps include:
Customizable Treatment Plans – Healthcare providers can customize treatment plans by adjusting infusion rates, bolus doses, and other parameters to meet the specific needs of each patient. This flexibility allows for tailored therapy.
Continuous Monitoring – Infusion pumps often feature monitoring and alarm systems to detect issues such as occlusions, air in the line, or low battery levels. Prompt detection of problems can help maintain the patient's well-being.
Improved Patient Comfort – Infusion pumps deliver medications and fluids at a consistent rate, reducing discomfort for the patient and providing a more predictable and comfortable treatment experience.
These advantages all play an important role in the popularity of infusion pumps. These devices are now being regularly used by everyone from registered nurses to nurse practitioners to physicians to pharmacists to medical technicians and technologists to respiratory therapists to home Healthcare Providers to dialysis technicians to paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and more.
What Drugs Are Most Often Administered via an Infusion Pump
The pumps are frequently used because they reduce the need for manual calculations and frequent checks, allowing healthcare professionals to focus on other aspects of patient care.

They also minimize medication waste by allowing for more accurate control of medication delivery and have also been observed to improve patient compliance. Patients are more likely to adhere to treatment plans when medications and fluids are administered consistently through infusion pumps, potentially leading to better treatment outcomes.

It's important to note that the use of infusion pumps in a medical setting requires specific training and expertise due to the critical nature of drug administration and the need for precise control.

The operation of infusion pumps involves programming, monitoring, and troubleshooting, and healthcare professionals must be knowledgeable about the medications they are administering and be capable of responding to potential complications or emergencies.

Patients themselves do not typically operate infusion pumps but rely on trained healthcare professionals to ensure the safe and effective delivery of medications and fluids.

However, some models have become so advanced that they are now OK’d for home use or in wellness businesses that strive to help customers improve their health. For instance, individuals may visit a privately owned wellness clinic to receive IV solutions containing vitamins and minerals, like B-12, to boost health and energy.

Visitors to these types of businesses should be careful in their selection and ensure the business is noted for safety and high quality.

References

1. Financial Market Insights, Infusion Pumps Market (online). Accessed 10/20/23.
2. US Food and Drug Administration, What is an Infusion Pump? (online). Accessed 10/20/23
3. National Library of Medicine, Administration of Drugs by Infusion Pumps in Palliative Medicine (online). Accessed 10/19/23
4. US Pharmacist, Role of Elastomeric Infusion Pumps in Outpatient Antibiotic Therapy (online). Accessed 10/20/23.
5. National Library of Medicine, Constant Infusion of Morphine for Intractable Cancer Pain … (online). Accessed 10/19/23.
6. Wisconsin Technical College System, Infusion By Pump (online). Access 10/20/23.
7. American College of Gastroenterology, Enteral and Parental Nutrition (online). Accessed 10/21/23.
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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