Risk Management

Acute Postoperative Endophthalmitis

Anne M. Menke, RN, PhD, OMIC Risk Manager

Digest, Fall 2003

Several policyholders have called with concerns about protocols they use for endophthalmitis prophylaxis before ocular surgery. They have heard rumors that it is below the standard of care not to use the latest topical fluoroquinolones. Currently, there is no basis for this claim. The fact that prevention and treatment of this rare but devastating complication remains the object of ongoing controversy contributes to the confusion. Two sources of information can help allay concerns and provide direction for sound therapeutic choices: OMIC claims experience and evidence-based studies.

Q  What is the source of infection in postoperative endophthalmitis?

A  In most cases, the causativeorganism is introduced into the eye at the time of surgery. Studies have identified the eyelids and conjunctiva as the primary source, so prophylactic measures are directed there. Other sources of contamination include secondary infection from sites such as the lacrimal system; contaminated eye drops, surgical instruments, intraocular lenses, or irrigation fluids; other agents introduced into the eye; and major breaches in sterile technique.

Q  What standards exist for prophylaxis?

A  There are currently no definitive standards. The latest evidence-based study by Drs. Cuilla, Starr, and Masket (Ophthalmology, January 2002) gave no prophylactic technique the highest clinical rating; however, an intermediate rating was given to preoperative preparation of the eyelids and conjunctiva with a 5% povidone-iodine solution just before surgery. Because of weak and conflicting evidence, all other reported prophylactic interventions received the lowest recommendation; of these, postoperative subconjunctival antibiotics had greater supporting evidence than the rest.

 In the absence of standards for prophylaxis, what should I do?

A  Base your treatment protocol on sound medical judgment. Tailor your treatment to the patient by taking into account known risk factors such as diabetes or immunosuppression, as well as the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment. Carefully document discussions with the patient, and provide clear, written instructions for pre- and postoperative care. Stay informed by reading peer-reviewed journals, and keep a risk management file of the articles that form the basis for your infection prevention protocol.

Q  What is the greatest malpractice risk associated with endophthalmitis?

A  Without exception, OMIC claims experience shows that liability arises from a delay in diagnosis or treatment, including a delay in referring the patient to a retina-vitreous specialist.

Q  What can I do to reduce the risk of delay in diagnosis?

A  If the surgery was complicated (e.g., capsular tear), took a long time, or required extensive instrumentation, you should have a higher index of suspicion for the development of endophthalmitis. Give all patients written discharge instructions stating the symptoms that warrant contacting you (blurred vision, red eye, pain, photophobia). Educate your staff members who handle telephone calls about the risk of endophthalmitis and train them to always ask patients who have these complaints if they have had eye surgery or trauma. Instruct them to schedule emergent appointments for such patients. Use the same screening criteria yourself when fielding after-hours calls (call OMIC for sample screening guidelines and contact forms). Err on the side of patient safety when deciding to treat over the phone versus examining the patient. Document your decisionmaking process in the medical record, especially when the patient calls with symptoms of a possible infection. Obtain a thorough intervalhistory, and perform and document a careful examination, noting the presence or absence of the signs of endophthalmitis (the cardinal sign is intraocular inflammation greater than expected for that point in the recovery process). If in doubt, consult with and/or refer patients to retina-vitreous specialists for cultureand management.

Q  Are there other measures I can take to reduce endophthalmitis liability?

A  During the informed consentdiscussion, warn patients about the risk of endophthalmitis and the possibility of vision loss. Emphasize the risk if the patient has diabetes, is immunosuppressed, or is having cataract surgery. Have a prudent follow-up plan, especially in symptomatic patients, and ensure that the patient makes the appointment before leaving your office. Diligently follow up on all patients who miss or cancel appointments, again ensuring that they understand that not receiving appropriate treatment could result in blindness. Carefully instruct patients to call you immediately if vision loss, pain, or other ocular problems develop before their next scheduled visit.

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