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Preventing Adverse Events in Cataract Surgery: Recommendations From a Massachusetts Expert Panel

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Abstract

Massachusetts health care facilities reported a series of cataract surgery–related adverse events (AEs) to the state in recent years, including 5 globe perforations during eye blocks performed by 1 anesthesiologist in a single day. The Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety, a nonregulatory Massachusetts state agency, responded by convening an expert panel of frontline providers, patient safety experts, and patients to recommend strategies for mitigating patient harm during cataract surgery. The purpose of this article is to identify contributing factors to the cataract surgery AEs reported in Massachusetts and present the panel’s recommended strategies to prevent them. Data from state-mandated serious reportable event reports were supplemented by online surveys of Massachusetts cataract surgery providers and semistructured interviews with key stakeholders and frontline staff. The panel identified 2 principal categories of contributing factors to the state’s cataract surgery–related AEs: systems failures and choice of anesthesia technique. Systems failures included inadequate safety protocols (48.7% of contributing factors), communication challenges (18.4%), insufficient provider training (17.1%), and lack of standardization (15.8%). Choice of anesthesia technique involved the increased relative risk of needle-based eye blocks. The panel’s surveys of Massachusetts cataract surgery providers show wide variation in anesthesia practices. While 45.5% of surgeons and 69.6% of facilities reported increased use of topical anesthesia compared to 10 years earlier, needle-based blocks were still used in 47.0% of cataract surgeries performed by surgeon respondents and 40.9% of those performed at respondent facilities. Using a modified Delphi approach, the panel recommended several strategies to prevent AEs during cataract surgery, including performing a distinct time-out with at least 2 care-team members before block administration; implementing standardized, facility-wide safety protocols, including a uniform site-marking policy; strengthening the credentialing and orientation of new, contracted and locum tenens anesthesia staff; ensuring adequate and documented training in block administration for any provider who is new to a facility, including at least 10 supervised blocks before practicing independently; using the least invasive form of anesthesia appropriate to the patient; and finally, adjusting anesthesia practices, including preferred techniques, as evidence-based best practices evolve. Future research should focus on evaluating the impact of these recommendations on patient outcomes.

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