The role of infusion pumps in patient treatment

Infusion pumps are among the most frequently used medical devices and play a key role in hospital and other healthcare operations. An external infusion pump is a medical device used to deliver fluids into a patient’s body in a controlled manner. Infusion pumps may be used to deliver large or small amounts of nutrients or medications such as insulin or other hormones, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and pain relievers.  


Some infusion pumps are designed mainly for stationary use at a patients bedside. Others, called ambulatory infusion pumps, are designed to be portable or wearable. 

A number of commonly used infusion pumps are designed for specialized purposes. These include:

  • Enteral pump—A pump used to deliver liquid nutrients and medications to a patient’s digestive tract.
  • Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump—A pump used to deliver pain medication, equipped with a feature that allows patients to self-administer a controlled amount of medication as needed.
  • Insulin pump—A pump typically used to deliver insulin to patients with diabetes. Insulin pumps are frequently used in the home.

Infusion pumps may be powered electrically or mechanically. Different pumps operate in different ways. For example:

  • In a syringe pump, fluid is held in the reservoir of a syringe, and a moveable piston controls fluid delivery.
  • In an elastomeric pump, fluid is held in a stretchable balloon reservoir, and pressure from the elastic walls of the balloon drives fluid delivery.
  • In a peristaltic pump, a set of rollers pinches down on a length of flexible tubing, pushing fluid forward.
  • In a multi-channel pump, fluids can be delivered from multiple reservoirs at multiple rates.
  • A "smart pump" is an infusion pump equipped with IV medication error-prevention software and safety features. These include user alerts that activate when there is risk of an adverse drug interaction or when the user sets the pump's parameters outside preconfigured or specified safety limits.