Medical errors at cataract surgery center blamed on anesthesiologist

Five Massachusetts cataract removal patients at one clinic were injured on the same morning, and specialists who later examined them pointed to the anesthesiologist as the likely cause, according to The Boston Globe

Investigative reports from the Cataract & Laser Center West in West Springfield suggest that Tzay Chiu, M.D., may have pierced the patients’ eyeballs or retinas with the anesthesia needle during the May 2014 incident, causing them to lose vision in the eye, according to the article.

The five patients were blinded on Chiu’s first day with the outpatient center, according to the article. He was sent to the facility by a contracted anesthesiologist “broker” that the center worked with, a common practice for such facilities, in place of their usual assigned anesthesiologist.

The wife of one of the patients told FierceHealthcare that a retina specialist told them the damage is irreversible. "We found out about the damage the day after the surgery during the routine follow-up visit. Had the eye surgeon paid attention to this right after it was done, some damage might have been reversed. The tragic part of this for all five is it could have (and should have) been prevented," she said.

But nothing in Chiu’s paperwork raised any red flags, according to the Globe article. However, an attorney for two of the injured patients told the publication that email records show he had not performed an eye block in almost a year before the incidents occurred.

“When one patient ends up blinded, it raises a red flag because it’s such a rare complication. When five patients are blinded, all on the same day, in the same center, it’s really shocking," William Thompson, an attorney with Lubin & Meyer in Boston, who represents two of the patients, told The Globe.

Massachusetts is one of the few states where such eye blocks are the common anesthesia choice for cataract surgery, according to the article, as most physicians across the country tend to use anesthetic eye drops instead--which carry fewer risks.

Neither Chiu nor his attorney, Rebecca Capozzi, commented on the case, according to the newspaper.

But a few months after the incident Chiu voluntarily signed a practice restriction agreement with the state medical board and agreed to no longer perform peribulbar or retrobulbar blocks during opthalmic surgery, including, but not limited to cataract surgery.

Medical errors could be the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to recent research. Some patient safety advocates believe cameras in the operating room might pinpoint the cause of the errors--and thus help prevent them in the first place. 

- read The Globe article
- here's the practice restriction agreement (.pdf)