What to Know About Different Types of Infusion Pumps: Ambulatory vs. Stationary

Nurse assisting patient in hospital gown to walk with walker

Stationary infusion pumps, invented in the 1960s, keep fluids and medications flowing at a constant, controlled rate, eliminating the need for ongoing monitoring. By the 1970s, the first ambulatory infusion pumps were brought into hospitals, introducing further infusion pump advancement as patients were freed from having to remain in bed during hours of IV therapy.

Fast forward to today where modern technology has led to smart pumps and increasingly connected infusion devices. Indeed, the practice of IV fluid delivery has come a long way, but the fundamentals still come down to stationary and ambulatory systems.

In this post, we’ll discuss the functional differences between the two types of infusion pumps and some vital information for decision-makers to keep in mind when purchasing stationary or ambulatory infusion pumps.

SEE ALSO: Why are infusion pumps so popular?

What to know about stationary infusion pumps

Stationary infusion pumps are primarily used bedside for patients with complex pharmaceutical needs, requiring frequent medication delivery. Although they’re sometimes used in home care, they’re most common in hospitals, especially critical care settings, and long-term care facilities with mostly bedridden residents.

Common uses for stationary IV setups include:

  • Emergency care
  • Critical care
  • Geriatric care
  • Cardiac surgery
  • Post-surgical care
  • Oncology
  • Severe chronic disease management

Types of stationary pumps include large-volume infusion pumps (LVPs) and small-volume infusion pumps (SVPs).

LVPs can deliver epidermal or intravenous fluids to a patient’s body at rates of 0.1 to 999 mL/hr or higher. They’re most used for administering saline solution, glucose, and antibiotics.

SVPs deliver fluids at a rate of 60 mL/hr or less. Patient-controlled SVPs let patients access drugs on-demand via a keypad button. Syringe SVPs automatically deliver smaller doses of antibiotics and other medications.

The benefits of stationary infusion pumps

More than 30% of ICU patients receive intravenous fluid resuscitation, often administered via stationary IV pumps. These pumps can deliver complex medication protocols, such as chemotherapy or cardiac anesthetics. The pump’s programmable capabilities can maintain therapeutic blood levels of multiple medications, freeing up time for critical care nursing staff.

Common concerns about stationary infusion pumps

Stationary infusion pumps tend to be cumbersome. Although most can be moved, it’s highly inconvenient to do so. This means that clinical staff must take time to locate and prepare an ambulatory pump and then transfer the patient to that device before transportation.

According to research published by Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, LVP manufacturers typically report flow accuracy of +/-5%, but this figure is obtained under controlled lab conditions. Unfortunately, environmental factors, such as temperature and fluid viscosity, affect real-world accuracy; therefore, the study authors assert that flow errors of as much as +/- 30% frequently occur during clinical use.

For this reason, it’s vital to research real-world data before buying LVPs. It’s also essential that the Biomed team has the time and testing equipment necessary to obtain facility-specific flow measurements during infusion pump PMs.

SEE ALSO: To Buy or To Rent? Factors to Consider About Leasing Infusion Pumps

What to know about ambulatory infusion pumps

Ambulatory infusion pumps are extremely popular across healthcare settings and in-home care. Current market research shows the global mobile IV pump market is expected to reach $915.5 million by 2030. These devices are smaller and weigh less than stationary models; they’re used in lower acuity hospital settings so mobile patients can move around while receiving medications or fluids.

Ambulatory models include syringe pumps, patient-controlled pumps, and elastomeric pumps.

Also called balloon pumps, elastomeric pumps have an internal elastic layer that creates pressure, forcing the medication into the vein. They’re disposable with highly accurate flow rates. Because elastomeric pumps are self-powered, they don’t require batteries or electricity.

Conditions associated with ambulatory infusion pumps include:

  • Insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Chronic pain and other chronic illnesses
  • Cancer
  • Infections
  • Gastrointestinal conditions

Ambulatory pumps can deliver fluids intravenously, epidurally, or subcutaneously.

The benefits of ambulatory infusion pumps

Patients with a prolonged or chronic illness benefit from ambulatory pumps because they remove restrictions that keep them confined. Ambulatory pumps let hospitalized individuals perform self-care tasks, exercise, and walk to different areas of the facility for healthcare services, a change of scene, or while spending time with visitors.

Equally valuable for home care settings, ambulatory infusion devices help combat patient depression and other mental health challenges associated with chronic health issues. For older adults, mobile pumps can play a vital role in maintaining independence, whether aging in place or in an assisted living or residential care setting.

Their lightweight design allows them to be clipped to clothing or worn in a special pouch, making them ideal for non-hospitalized patients who can participate in daily activities but still require routine doses of IV medications, such as insulin.

Ambulatory pumps make moving patients between floors, buildings, or facilities much easier for nurses and other healthcare workers. The pump and medication can easily travel with the patient without interrupting the current programming or needing to schedule transportation around infusions.

Drawbacks of ambulatory infusion pumps

The broad range of uses for ambulatory pumps has created a diverse device market. Therefore, purchasing mobile infusion equipment designed for multiple functions makes financial sense. However, multi-function devices can have shorter battery lives or require longer charging times, so these concerns should factor into the cost-benefit analysis.

Research shows that both clinicians and patients prefer elastomeric models over electronic pumps. While elastomeric pumps have minimal risks associated with pump programming and are easy to use, the absence of error alarms in non-electric systems is concerning. Although flow rates are more predictable, according to one study, factors such as temperature or fluid viscosity cause about 40% of elastomeric pumps to fail to complete the full infusion time, leaving medication undelivered.

Electronic pumps are considered more reliable than elastomeric pumps, but they’re also associated with medication errors arising primarily from user error and design flaws. Fortunately, numerous organizations, including the FDA, have developed initiatives to address the issue of infusion pump safety features.

SEE ALSO: How to clean infusion pumps for patient safety

The Take Away for Medical Equipment Stakeholders

When it comes to ambulatory or stationary infusion pumps, providers must consider the impact equipment has on patient safety, patient care, clinical staff workflows, and BMET teams.

Conducting thorough research on specific brands and models, robust vendor vetting, and sourcing input from clinical, risk, quality, HTM, pharmacy, and other departments will help provide the data needed to make the best decision.

Elite Biomedical Solutions is a proud USA manufacturer of OEM-quality infusion pump replacement parts. For more helpful advice, see our free guide to learn more about finding and vetting 3rd-party biomedical equipment partners specializing in infusion pumps.

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