Safety of care

Improving patient safety and reducing risks

Steroid eye drops: Use caution in repeating prescriptions

An article for physicians by physicians
Originally published June 2004 / Revised April 2008


Exercise caution in repeating prescriptions.

Of interest to physicians prescribing and administering medications

The patient in the following case study was a relatively young man who had a history of atopic dermatitis and ulcerative colitis. He developed a red eye and was referred for a specialist's opinion, as there were concerns the red eye might be uveitis. The diagnosis was atopic follicular conjunctivitis. The specialist prescribed steroid drops and sent a consultation letter to the family doctor.

The patient returned to the family doctor on several occasions asking for repeats of the steroid drops. The family doctor felt comfortable that the patient had been reviewed by the specialist and continued to prescribe repeats of this medication.

At one point, a physician who was covering the family practice saw the patient. This third physician was concerned about the long use of topical steroid eye drops, and documented carefully that he advised the patient to be followed by a specialist. Unfortunately, when the patient returned to the specialist, the pressure within the eye was not measured. Tragically, this young man developed glaucoma and is now legally blind. He commenced a legal action against the family doctor. The patient claimed he did not have a clear understanding of the potential toxicity of the medication. Experts consulted were not able to support the care given, and the claim was settled by the CMPA on behalf of the member.

Bottom line

Have you advised the patient of the risks and benefits of steroid eye drops prescribed?

Have you given clear advice about follow-up?

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.