According to the National Home Infusion Association, “Infusion therapy involves the administration of medication through a needle or catheter. It is prescribed when a patient’s condition is so severe that it cannot be treated effectively by oral medications. Typically, ‘infusion therapy’ means that a drug is administered intravenously.”
How it Works
The most common type of infusion therapy is prescribed to treat infections that are unresponsive to oral antibiotics. Chemotherapy for cancer patients is also often delivered through infusion. Other chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis are often treated with infused medication. Depending on the medication involved and the treatment, infusion therapy can be administered in a hospital or outpatient center, or at a patient’s home by a nurse.
Infusion medications are delivered intravenously (IV) through a catheter, much like a typical IV used to hydrate patients. Common complaints by patients during infusion therapy surround the prick of the catheter needle insertion and discomfort with the needle in the course of the therapy. Depending on the medication being delivered, some tingling, mild warming or burning, or dizziness. Your doctor and pharmacist will be able to tell you what to expect.
Specialty Pharmacy Role
Specialty pharmacies are often selected by doctors to deliver infusion therapies. Specialty pharmacies handle medications and perform procedures that require skills and handling that a retail pharmacy does not offer. Many medications must be temperature-controlled, for example, and because these medications are often very expensive, specialty pharmacies often have trained nurses and staff on hand to ensure treatment is correctly administered.
Qualified infusion pharmacies must satisfy licensing and other regulatory requirements imposed by state pharmacy boards as well as accreditation standards required by most third-party payers. Infusion pharmacies may also provide additional professional therapies and services, including nutrition therapy, inhalation medications using nebulizers, and disease state and care management services.
What to Expect
Some infusion therapies are portable, meaning the delivery device can be worn and the patient can be mobile during the treatment. Others require staying in a bed or chair. It is recommended that patients prepare by drinking plenty of water and wear comfortable clothing as other devices such as heart monitors might also be used as part of the treatment. Also, it is recommended that patients bring layers of clothing when being treated at a clinic, as temperature levels can vary and some medications may cause changes to the body’s temperatures.
Infusion pharmacy nurses have specific education, training, and expertise in home or other alternate-site administration of drugs and biologics via infusion. Additional services they often offer include evaluation and assessment, education and training for the patient or caregiver, inspection and consultation of the home environment, catheter insertion, and patient assessment.
Infusion pharmacies typically deliver infusion therapy services as conveniently as possible for patients, and provide educational materials and training for patients and caregivers. Pharmacy staff work closely with doctors, clinical dietitians, and registered nurses to determine what treatment will take place in the home, clinic, hospital, or doctor’s office. Most will also help with medication management and adherence by checking in with the patient regularly, and also help with billing and reimbursement of expenses.