Troubleshooting IV Pumps: How To Stop (Some) Of The Beeping


These machine used to frighten me in nursing school.  They have evolved into being an occasional annoyance when they make their beeping sound (or otherwise choose not to work they way they are supposed to). Here are some tips for newer nurses:

1) Don’t overthink things. Make sure the pump is plugged in, and not running on battery power. The pump pictured above will beep when the battery is running low. This can be really easy to check, especially when you set foot in the room at the beginning of the shift.  Before you leave the room, add checking the plug as part of your routine – along with making sure the bed is in the lowest position, bed/clip alarms on and functioning, three rails up, etc.

2) “HIGH PRESSURE” alarms can be somewhat tricky to identify. It can be as simple as making sure that the IV line is not kinked, or tucked under the patient from an earlier bed strip. It can also occur when the IV site is located at a joint, antecubital or wrist.  You can try stopping the pump, adjust the IV tubing, then start it up again. If that doesn’t work, sometimes swapping out the IV pump and/or switching out the IV tubing will work. However, if you are only dealing with small IV infusions; switching out tubing is probably out of the question as you’d waste over 20 mls of medicine with the switch out.

3) “AIR BUBBLE” alarms, which used to terrify nursing students, can be dealt with in several ways. My favorite would be the “guitar strumming” method, where you hold the IV tubing near the pump – then “strum” the line – to work air bubbles away from the pump. You can also consider re-priming the pump, but that could keep you busy for awhile. Remember that “time management” thing?  The bad news is that even microscopic bubbles will set off the alarms.  The good news is that a few tiny air bubbles aren’t likely to harm the patient.  The bad news is that there isn’t a general consensus on what that amount it.Here is a National Institute of Health article on embolisms.  Use your own critical thinking skills to assess your own pumps, please.

4) If all else fails, read the error message on the pump.  I am not familiar with ALL pumps; just the electronic nightmare generating machine pictured above. If you believe there is something wrong with your pump, take it down immediately! Follow your facility’s guidelines for labeling out-of-commission/broken items.  Pumps that aren’t working correctly could mean no medicine is given (bad) or that too much medicine is given too quickly (very, very bad).  Again, use those critical thinking skills for your own situations, please.

5) Ask peers for help. Try to do some troubleshooting on your own, but don’t be afraid to ask others for help.  You are just looking for ideas, not necessarily have them do it for you. Remember what they show you. Thank them for their time. In time, you will develop your own troubleshooting bag of tricks.

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