Infusion therapy, a type of treatment that involves the administration of drugs through a catheter or a needle, is an alternative to taking medications orally. There are many reasons why someone would need this kind of therapy instead of taking oral medications and a range of illnesses that are treated this way. In general, infusion therapy is used when a patient is too sick and the condition too advanced for oral medications to be effective.

While infusion therapy was once solely conducted in hospitals and other inpatient settings for safety reasons, technological advancements have allowed for infusions to be done in outpatient settings and even in homes. Nurses typically provide infusion therapy, and some may have special training or certification in this kind of treatment. Infusion therapy is generally safe, but there are risks and it should only be performed by a trained professional.

What is Infusion Therapy?

Infusion therapy refers to any administration of medications in the form of a fluid and that is not administered orally. Most often infusion therapy is an intravenous administration of medications in which a fluid is injected directly into the bloodstream via a needle. However, infusion therapy can also be administered through a catheter, a thin, hollow tube, inserted in a blood vessel. While administering medications through the bloodstream is the most common type of infusion therapy, there are other ways fluid medications can be given that fall under this category:

  • Subcutaneous administration is an injection under the skin.
  • An intramuscular injection delivers medication directly into muscle tissue.
  • Epidural medications are injected into the fluid of the spinal cord.

Who Needs Infusion Therapy?

Infusion therapy is used to treat a variety of patients and a range of conditions. Someone who needs infusion therapy could be any age. Some treatments are simple and short-term, such as administering fluids to manage dehydration. Others are more serious, like administering antibiotics to treat a systemic infection that is not responding to oral antibiotics. Other conditions and symptoms that may be treated with infusion therapy are congestive heart failure, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, Crohn’s disease, severe pain, immune deficiencies, diabetes, and many others.

One of the most notable uses of infusion therapy is for the administration of chemotherapy drugs to cancer patients. Most chemotherapy drugs do not specifically target cancer cells, which is why they need to be administered intravenously, so that they can circulate throughout the entire body. Most of these drugs target any fast-growing cell. They move through the bloodstream, target, and attack any of these cells, including cancer cells and many healthy cells as well. For this reason, chemotherapy is one type of infusion therapy that can make patients very sick, but which is still needed and often effective.

Inpatient and Clinic Infusion Therapy

For patients who are very sick and have conditions that are serious or life threatening, infusion therapy is typically given in an inpatient setting. Inpatient infusions are most common in hospitals and in nursing homes. These settings, and the inpatient stay, allow doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to monitor patients and provide round-the-clock care. Patients who are more stable can receive infusion therapy on an outpatient basis, visiting an infusion clinic or outpatient center of a hospital for a few hours at a time.

Home Infusion Therapy

This kind of treatment can be done at home for some patients. Drugs, equipment, and often the infusion nurse needed to administer the medication are provided by an infusion therapy pharmacy. These pharmacies are specially equipped to compound sterile drugs to be used in infusion therapy. They also typically provide the equipment needed for infusions, care coordination, nursing services, and all supplies necessary for a home infusion therapy to be effective and safe.

Infusion Therapy Safety

Infusion therapy has become safer thanks to new technologies and the use of pre-filled, pre-dosed medications that do not have to be carefully measured before given to a patient. There are still many potential safety concerns and risks that patients should be aware of before undergoing infusion therapy:

  • Infections at the site of injection, especially in patients who must have a catheter placed at the site for a long period of time
  • Blood vessel damage at the injection site, which can affect the administration of the drug and damage tissues
  • Air bubbles in veins, which can block blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke
  • Blood clots, which may form and cause blockages that may lead to a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism

Safety in infusion therapy is typically of most concern in the home setting. The pharmacies that provide medications, equipment, and related supplies are supposed to provide services that ensure the process will be safe. This includes monitoring possible drug interactions and incompatibilities between drugs and catheters, comprehensive care planning and coordination with health care professionals, ongoing monitoring of patients, patient safety education, and on-site safety measures that ensure the drugs and equipment are sterile and safe.

Many patients use infusion pumps, which deliver precise amounts of medication to a patient in a controlled manner. Patients who are generally healthy and need long-term infusions may learn to operate their own pumps and use them at home or even on the go with ambulatory pumps. Infusion pumps are also used for more critical patients and in many cases they deliver life-sustaining medications. Any failure in the pumps or how they are used can have serious consequences.

Quality in Infusion Therapy

Getting good care and safe infusion therapy is important in many ways. For some patients, infusion therapies are keeping them alive and poor quality care could be fatal. For cancer patients, when infusion therapy is not provided correctly, the consequences could be remission. For patients with less life-threatening illnesses, poor quality infusion care can still cause serious complications, like infections and air bubbles.

To ensure you or your loved one gets good quality care, it is important to seek out appropriate care. Home infusion, for instance, although convenient, isn’t right for everyone. For those who do choose in-home infusion, it is important to be trained and educated in how to use the equipment and how to look for signs that there is a problem. When relying on health care professionals to provide the infusion, be sure that the organization or individual is licensed, qualified, and experienced with infusion therapy.

Infusion therapy is a type of medical care that is important for so many patients. You often have a lot of options with infusion care: inpatient or home care, types of infusion pumps, and who will provide the care. It is important to take these choices seriously and to work with your medical team to be sure you or your loved one gets the best and safest infusion therapy.