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Infusion pumps — a challenging technology or a technology challenge?

May 07, 2021
Infusion Pumps
From the May 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Juuso Leinonen

Infusion pumps are among the most numerous medical devices found in any healthcare facility, and they are directly involved in the care of many patients.
That's why safety issues related to these devices warrant careful attention. Learning about past problems with a device and becoming familiar with common errors of use are essential technology management activities, both when assessing infusion pump models for purchase and when managing the models already in inventory.

Most facilities manage a fleet of hundreds to thousands of infusion pumps, often including a range of manufacturers, models, and pump types. The inventory may include large-volume infusion pumps, syringe pumps, patient-controlled analgesic (PCA) pumps, and ambulatory pumps for home use, with each pump type intended for different clinical use cases. A pump may be used for something as basic as providing hydration fluids to an adult in a low-acuity care unit, to something as complex as being used in conjunction with a dozen other pumps to provide life-sustaining therapy in an ICU.

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Factor in the many issues that have prompted device recalls or that otherwise can impact infusion pump safety, and it's not hard to see why managing an infusion pump fleet has become a continuously evolving challenge for many organizations.

Infusion pump recalls on the rise
Recent years have seen a cyclical uptick in infusion pump recalls, leading to some models being pulled off the market completely, while others are only available with a certificate of medical necessity to existing customers. Infusion pump recalls are definitely nothing new, however. Issues with design, usability, durability, and construction have plagued a number of different pump vendors and models in the past.

That's not ideal, but it's also not entirely avoidable. As new products are introduced to the market, it can take years before the majority of issues are uncovered. While it is imperative for manufacturers to design products that eliminate as many of the known sources of error as possible prior to go-to-market, the reality is that some issues may not materialize until the device is used in large numbers for the varied infusion pump use cases. With about a million infusion pumps used in the U.S. every day, even a "one-in-a-million" problem can be expected several times a week. Regardless of which infusion pumps you are using, it is possible, and even likely, that issues will arise during their life cycle.

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