Surgical errors rare but serious in ophthalmic procedures

November 12, 2007

Surgical confusions--for instance, operations involving the wrong site, the wrong patient or the wrong procedure--occur infrequently in eye surgery procedures, according to a report in the November issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. Although most surgical confusions cause little or no permanent injury, they may involve serious consequences for the patient, physician and profession, yet could often be prevented.

"Surgical confusions (i.e., wrong patient, wrong site, wrong procedure) are an increasingly recognized cause of morbidity, recently representing the most common category of reportable medical error," the authors write as background information in the article. "In July 2004, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, in concert with many professional organizations, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, promulgated the Universal Protocol in an effort to prevent such confusions in all surgical procedures. This protocol includes consistent preoperative verification, site marking and a time-out immediately before incision."

John W. Simon, M.D., of the Lions Eye Institute, Albany Medical College, N.Y., and colleagues retrospectively analyzed 106 cases of surgical confusions involving eye operations that occurred between 1982 and 2005. This included 42 cases from the Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company and 64 from the New York State Health Department.

Their analysis found that: The authors estimate that these data suggest a rate of 69 surgical confusions for every 1 million eye operations.

"The causes of these confusions were faulty systems, processes and conditions that led people to make mistakes, more often than an individual's recklessness," the authors write. "The traditional response to medical error, 'blame, shame and train,' therefore misses the point. Humiliating or otherwise disciplining caregivers tends to perpetuate a culture of secrecy that impedes effective root-cause analysis and future improvement. A more enlightened approach is entirely non-punitive, drawing on methods of crew resource management adapted from the airlines and the defense department."
-end-
(Arch Ophthalmol. 2007;125(11):1515-1522. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This study was supported in part by a grant from the Sight Society of Northeastern New York, Inc. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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