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Calculating I.V. drip rates with confidence

While you’re working your shift on the progressive care unit, the physician phones in an order to start a patient’s I.V. dopamine infusion at 5 mcg/kg/minute. As you hang up the phone, your mind starts to race: How fast should I set the infusion pump to deliver 5 mcg/kg/minute? Will I be able to remember the complex drip rate equation I learned in nursing school? Will I have to mix the solution or will it come premixed? Will I have to titrate the drug myself, or will I get a regular physician’s order? If I need to titrate it myself, can I do this on my unit?

Many nurses are expected to deliver and titrate I.V. drugs regularly. Such factors as unit protocols, titration policies, and the specific drug ordered determine exactly how you’ll deliver and titrate an I.V. drug.

Today, with an emphasis on patient safety, the pharmacy staff customarily mixes the majority of drug solutions and also may calculate infusion pump rates. Many pharmaceutical companies have gotten in on the act, too, providing a drip rate matrix.

Although many I.V. infusion pumps calculate drip rates automatically, these rates must be double-checked to ensure patient safety. So chances are you’ll need to calculate I.V. drip rates and titration scales yourself.

If you feel uneasy when performing these critical tasks, you’re not alone. To boost your confidence, this article presents simplified equations to help you breeze through selected I.V. drip rate calculations.

NOTE TO READER: For the sake of accuracy, the rest of this article is available in PDF format only. Click the PDF icon above to access the PDF. Thank you.

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