Patients requiring medication typically deliver the medication into their body orally, through a pill or syrup. However, some medical conditions and medications require an alternate delivery method.
For example, patients who have difficulty swallowing or require medication that reduces its effectiveness as it travels through the digestive system require an alternative delivery system.
What is Infusion Therapy
Infusion therapy is a popular medication administration method, where drugs are administered through a sterile catheter or needle.
Infusion therapy is used to accurately deliver medications to problem areas at a controlled rate. It ensures that medication avoids stomach acids and for treating serious infections that don’t respond to oral antibiotics.
There are many medical conditions that respond to infusion therapy. They include cancers, gastrointestinal diseases, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and others.
While infusion therapy is largely used in medical facilities, it is increasingly being used for ambulatory care. Patients at home, in hospice or nursing homes, and in infusion suites can receive infusion therapy to receive antibiotics, supplement nutrition, treat pain, and other treatments.
What are the Different Types of Infusion Therapy?
There are essentially four types of infusion therapies.
- Intravenous (IV) infusion therapy
- Epidural infusions
- Intramuscular infusions
- Subcutaneous infusions
Intravenous (IV) infusion therapy
IV infusions are one of the fastest ways to get medications into the body. A needle is placed into the patient’s vein, and medications drip directly into the bloodstream. Multiple doses of the medication or infusion can be delivered through the IV without requiring multiple injections. IVs are also used to rehydrate a patient and deliver nutritional supplements when oral methods are unavailable.
During an epidural, medication is injected into the epidural space around the spinal cord. Epidurals are typically used to block pain in the lower part of the body. During this procedure, the patient is given a local anesthetic, after which the clinician inserts a needle and a catheter into the epidural space. Anesthesia is administered through the catheter for the duration of the procedure.
In this infusion, medications are injected deep into the muscle. The medications are absorbed quickly and are easier for the clinician to deliver as they don't need to find a vein.
These injections are delivered using a short needle between the skin and the muscle. This is typically used for medications that are given in small doses, such as insulin or hormones, but can also provide hydration to elderly patients.
Infusion therapy can be received in hospitals, infusion centers, and also in the home environment. The shift from hospital to home was accelerated by the pandemic, creating a need for hospital-grade solutions within the home setting.
As such, the healthcare industry put an increased focus on patient-centricity, developing and providing devices that are easier for the end-user or at-home caregiver to utilize, control, and manage. Infusion therapy at home requires coordination between the supply of the medication or treatment from home infusion pharmacies, treatment management from nurses and physicians or home health agencies, and the supply of equipment and servicing of giving sets and pumps.
Nursing services are necessary to train and educate the patient and caregivers on the safe administration of infusion drugs in the home. Visiting nurses often plays a large role in home infusion. Nurses typically train the patient or caregiver to self-administer the drug, educate on the side effects and goals of therapy, and visit periodically to assess the infusion site and provide dressing changes.
Home infusions include TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition), OPAT (Outpatient Antibiotic Therapy), PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesia), biologicals, and other infusions.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Infusion Therapy Delivery
Infusion therapy offers a number of benefits over oral medications. In addition to avoiding stomach acids that degrade some medications’ efficacy, infusions allow medications to be absorbed faster. In extreme cases, such as anaphylactic shock, it can be the difference between life and death.
Intermittent dosages, which would be near impossible to administer orally, can easily be administered through infusion therapy. Chemotherapy, which is life-saving but would be toxic if administered orally, can only be processed by the body through infusion therapy.
As valuable as infusion therapy is to patients, there are some drawbacks. Medications require exact dosages, especially for neonates. Errors in calculations, dilution, and equipment can lead to delays and under-delivery of medication that is less effective or large doses that can exacerbate conditions and cause an overdose. This is especially unsafe for certain medications and when treating vulnerable populations such as the elderly and neonates.
The Modern Way of Distributing Infusion Therapy Treatments
Most legacy IVs are composed of a bag containing the medication, sterile tubing, and a needle that is inserted into the patient’s vein. The solution is pulled into the needle using gravity, which makes it impossible to control the rate of admission. In some situations, pumps are used as well, which allows for more precise dosage control. Some infusion pumps provide software with a drug library that offers pre-programmed treatments that reduce medication administration errors.
The Sapphire infusion pump is a compact lightweight pump that can be used for multiple types of therapy. It has six unique modes, an intuitive user interface, and preset programs. It is used for IV, subcutaneous and epidural infusions.
IV Infusion therapy has been widely available in hospitals since the 1950s. However, with the right equipment, it is more effective than ever at delivering medication to patients.
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