Infusion Pump: Definition, Types, Benefits, and Patient Safety

by Sara Alvarado

Updated February 23, 2024
Infusion pumps are among the most common medical equipment used in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

With their precision and accuracy, these medical devices are transforming drug and fluid delivery to patients, especially in chronic cases where oral and other routes are not viable.

But what exactly is an infusion pump, how does it work, how many types are there, and what are its benefits and drawbacks? Precise answers to these questions are what you find in the rest of the article.

1. What is an Infusion Pump

What Is An Infusion Pump
Infusion pumps are therapy equipment that healthcare professionals use to deliver drugs and fluids straight into the patient’s body under controlled settings.

Drugs delivered to patients using infusion pumps include pain relievers, antibiotics, hormone therapies like insulin, and chemotherapies.

Generally, infusion pumps have 3 main parts:
  • A drug or fluid reservoir.
  • A catheter or tubing connected to the pump at one end and to a delivery line on the patient to send the fluid or drug straight to the patient’s body.
  • A flow regulator to control the amount and flow rate.
Depending on the type, an infusion pump can have more than these three parts. The type also determines if the clinician operates it manually or smartly with a remote device.

Infusion pump type also defines several other aspects of infusion pumps, as explained below.

2. What are the Different Types of Infusion pumps?

There are several types of infusion pumps, categorized according to the following features.

Pump Design

Categorizing infusion pumps by design considers whether they are stationary or ambulatory. Stationary IV pumps stay at the patient’s bedside while ambulatory models like the Autoinfu can be moved around on a trolley or wheel clamp or worn by the patient.
Autoinfu Infusion Pump with IV Stand

Fluid Volume

Infusion pumps can be large-volume, also known as volumetric infusion pumps, which deliver fluids at 0.1mL/hr to ≥999mL/hr, or small-volume infusion pumps, which deliver fluids at ≤60mL/hr.

Fluid Delivery Mode

Going by their delivery mode, infusion pumps fall under one of these categories:
  • Enteral pumps: These deliver drugs or nutritional fluids directly to the patient’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Insulin pumps: Specialized pumps used to deliver insulin to diabetes patients. They are common in home-based care.
  • Patient-controlled analgesia pumps (PCA):These deliver painkiller fluids and have features that allow patients to administer controlled amounts of the drug as per the prescription.

Operating Mode

Infusion Pump 5
Infusion pumps operate either electrically or mechanically to send fluid from the reservoir to the patient’s body. Electrically powered IV pumps operate by the peristaltic or piston mechanism. Mechanically-operating infusion pumps use ballon pressure to move fluids without any power source.

Going by the operating mode, infusion pumps can be categorized as follows:
  • Syringe pumps: These hold the drug or fluid in a syringe reservoir. A piston controls fluid flow into the patient's body.
  • Peristaltic pumps: These have a set of rollers that generate pressure to compress the pump tubing and push the fluid through it to the chamber. The rollers then compress the tube to create a vacuum that pushes the fluid out of the chamber to the patient.
  • Elastomeric pumps: They have a balloon fluid reservoir that contracts and stretches to generate the pressure that moves fluid from the balloon to the patient through the attached tubing.
  • Multi-channel pumps: This type of IV pump has two or more fluid reservoirs and can be programmed to deliver the fluids in a cycle mode at different rates. Multi-channel pumps are perfect for complex therapy administration.
  • Smart pumps: These are present-day models with built-in efficiency features such as virtual libraries to control drug dosage. They also have alarms that activate when drug delivery is not working as it should due to pump malfunction or over/under dosage.
All these types of infusion pumps have similar benefits over manual therapy delivery.

3. Infusion Pump Benefits in Therapy Delivery.

What Is An Infusion Pump
Because of their controlled drug and fluid delivery mechanisms, infusion pumps have several benefits over manual medication to patients. These benefits include:
  • They have minute precision and can deliver drugs in extremely small doses.
  • They are safe and accurate , working by programmed rates and delivery intervals.
  • They are easy to use once the clinician gets the hang of how they function.
  • They are convenient because larger ones can be wheeled, and smaller ones won by the patient.
However, like other equipment, infusion pumps can also present drawbacks in patient safety.

4. Infusion Pump and Patient Safety

What Is An Infusion Pump
Infusion pumps deliver medications straight into the patient's circulatory system. As such, any equipment or user-related errors can cause adverse effects with significant safety implications for patients.

While keeping patients safe is why IV pumps have safety features such as alarms in case of occlusion or over/under dosage, these errors can still happen.

Research suggests infusion-related complications affect one in every five patients due to inaccurate administration. As such, consistent infusion pump testing is necessary to ensure their revolutionary role in drug administration remains advantageous.

5. Quick Summary

Infusion pumps make direct drug and fluid delivery to the patient’s body easy, safe, and accurate where oral and other administration modes fall short.

Medical facilities and privately-operating medics can choose from a wide range of infusion pump types to reap their benefits in therapy administration.

Since infusion pumps are human-made equipment with drawbacks, consistent testing to better their reliability is the way to go.
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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