Infusion refers to the administration of medications directly into a vein through a needle or catheter. Infusion therapy is the practice using infusion to treat patients whose condition is so severe that periodic oral or injectable treatments aren’t effective.
While we tend to think of infusion therapy as a delivery mechanism for chemotherapy medications, the most common use of infusion therapy is to treat dehydration through an intravenous drip from a bag of fluid containing water, dissolved salt and electrolytes. Other uses of infusion therapy include delivery of antibiotics, vitamins, antiviral medications and anti fungal medications for non-chronic conditions.
Chronic conditions that are commonly treated with infusion drugs include cancers, congestive heart failure, Crohn’s Disease, hemophilia, immune deficiencies, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.
Specialty Medications and Pharmacies
Many infusion drugs for chronic conditions are considered specialty medications. Specialty medications usually require special care for things like transportation and storage, and most are very expensive so extra care is taken to ensure that they are properly handled and administered in order to avoid misuse and the expense that this would cause for the patient, provider or insurer.
Specialty medications are typically delivered by specialty pharmacies–pharmacies that have facilities and processes designed to handle these medications and expert staff trained in how to use them. Specialty pharmacies ensure that infusion drugs are compounded correctly in a sterile environment, given at the right dosages and schedules, delivered in the right location on the body, and more.
Specialty pharmacies provide highly personalized services including patient intake and assessment, training and education about the medications a patient will be using and phone support throughout a patient’s treatment. Also essential are the specialized equipment (infusion pumps and poles) and many administration supplies (such as IV sets, syringes, and more) required for infusion therapy.
The rising costs of medical care combined with advances in drug delivery technology make it possible to for some infusion therapies to be administered at home (as opposed to a hospital or outpatient treatment center). Some specialty pharmacies are also permitted to deliver home infusion therapy. Home infusion therapy has evolved into a comprehensive medical therapy that is a much less costly alternative to inpatient treatment in a hospital or skilled nursing facility. For patients with chronic conditions that require ongoing sessions, home delivery can be much more convenient and support the patient’s lifestyle.
When infusion therapy is provided in a patient’s home, the specialty pharmacy staffs include home nurses that will ensure proper patient education and training and monitor the care of the patient in the home. In addition to a patient assessment, a home assessment is performed to make sure that the environment is suitable for the medications and the treatment to be used.
Infusion pharmacies must meet state pharmacy board licensing and other regulatory requirements, as well as accreditation standards required by most insurers. Specialty pharmacies often provide additional services such as nutritional training and disease management services.