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Calculating IV Drips Accurately

The New York State Nurses Association is accredited as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation.

This course has been awarded 1.5 Contact Hours through the New York State Nurses Association Accredited Provider Unit.

The New York State Nurses Association is accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training “IACET” and is authorized to issue the IACET CEU.

The New York State Nurses Association is authorized by IACET to offer 0.2 CEUs for this program.

In order to receive contact hours and CEUs, participants must read the course material, pass the examination with 80%, and complete an evaluation. Contact hours will be awarded until October 10, 2020.

Declaration of Vested Interest:  None

NYSNA wishes to disclose that no commercial support of sponsorship was received.

NYSNA course planners and authors declare that they have no conflict of interest in this course.

Course Introduction

Many medications are delivered intravenously (IV). Like all other medication administration procedures, the “Eight Rights” are essential:

Right Patient
Right Medication
Right Dose
Right Time
Right Route
Right Documentation
Right Reason
Right Response

IV fluids with or without additives are medications. Therefore, it is essential that…

the correct patient
receives the correct medication
in the correct amount
at the correct times
and is documented appropriately
when infusing IV solutions

The Joint Commission, Standard MM.06.01.01 The hospital safely administers medications, states:

Before administration of medications, the individual administering medications should do the following:

  • Verify that the medication selected matches the medication order and product label;
  • Visually inspect the medication for particulates, discoloration, or other loss of integrity;
  • Verify that the medication has not expired;
  • Verify that no contraindications exist;
  • Verify that the medication is being administered at the proper time, in the prescribed dose, and by the correct route; and
  • Discuss any unresolved concerns about the medication with the patient’s licensed independent practitioner, prescriber, and/or staff involved with the patient’s care, treatment, and services.
  • Before administering a new medication, the patient or family is informed about any potential clinically significant adverse drug reactions or other concerns regarding administration of a new medication.

    (Joint Commission Resources, 2017.)

Many nurses today work in facilities where electronic devices automatically calculate drip rate factors and deliver the amount of fluid/medication needed as scheduled. The nurse uses the device’s built-in computer and enters the amount of fluid and the time it is to run. The infusion machine then calculates the rate of infusion. The nurse generally relies on the machine and never calculates a drip rate themself. They believe the days of “counting drops” are long gone; they may even have forgotten how to calculate and measure intravenous drug dosages. In fact, many nurses lack confidence in performing basic math calculations. This has been identified as a patient safety issue among nursing students and Registered Nurses (Lee, 2009).

New devices and “smart pump” technology has entered the market. Hospitals now regularly rely on technology, such as infusion pumps with built in software at the point of interaction with the nurse. The use of such equipment can reduce medication errors. It should be noted that one of the National Patient Safety Goals, identified by The Joint Commission, is to improve the safety of using infusion pumps and ensure free-flow protection on all general-use and patient controlled analgesia (PCA) infusion pumps used in an organization.

It is important to remember that even in facilities where the use of electronic devices is standard, the nurse has the obligation of administering medications correctly and therefore must be knowledgeable and competent in the calculation of doses and IV flow rates. The nurse is responsible for double-checking all drug and IV drip calculations (McMullen, Jones, & Lea, 2010).

Check mark

What if there suddenly are not enough pumps to go around?

Check mark What if the pump breaks and there is no replacement available?
Check mark What if you change jobs and infusion pumps aren’t used in the new place?
Check mark What if the pumps battery dies while in transit to a procedure?
Check mark What if the electricity is out for long periods of time during a disaster?

If this happens, there may not be time to look up a formula.

IV pump

It’s never enough to rely on electronic devices; nurses must be prepared to administer IV solutions accurately with or without a pump. The ability to calculate accurate administration rates is essential. Errors that occur in IV medication/solution administration have the potential to be more deadly even quicker than other medication errors. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse or defense.

In an article in Nursing 97 (1997), the author tells of her experience as a new nurse who was anxious about calculating an IV drip rate. Rather than calculate the drip rate, she consulted the pharmacist who calculated for her. When she returned to work the next day an incident report had been filed because the patient had received half the required dose of dopamine. There is no acceptable defense for this and the author learned that there is also no substitute for doing one’s own drug calculations and double checking them. Even if IV solutions come from the pharmacy with labeled directions for flow rates, the nurse administering the solution, as the individual responsible for the administration, must do the calculation and verify that it is correct before hanging.

This course covers basic principles of administration of IV fluids and calculation of IV drip rates. Mathematical calculations will be demonstrated and opportunities for self-assessment areincluded.

©2017, NYSNA. All Rights Reserved.

Course Objectives

After reviewing this self-study module, the learner should be able to:
  • Describe general principles for the administration of intravenous therapy.
  • Discuss the use of infusion devices for intravenous therapy.
  • Calculate drip rates for IV infusions correctly.
  • Explain the nurse's responsibility during administration of fluids.


To enroll in this course, please click the "Register" button below.

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