WebM&M Cases & Commentaries
WebM&M (Morbidity & Mortality Rounds on the Web) features expert analysis of medical errors reported anonymously by our readers. Spotlight Cases include interactive learning modules available for CME. Commentaries are written by patient safety experts and published monthly. Contribute by Submitting a Case anonymously.
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- Spotlight Case
by Kristin E. Sandau, PhD, RN, and Marjorie Funk, PhD, RN; April 2019
An elderly woman with a history of dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, and congestive heart failure (CHF) was brought to the emergency department and found to meet criteria for sepsis. Due to her CHF, she was admitted to a unit with telemetry monitoring, which at this institution was performed remotely. When the nurse came to check the patient's vital signs several hours later, she found the patient to be unresponsive and apneic, with no palpable pulse. A Code Blue was called, but the patient died. Although the telemetry technician had recognized progressive bradycardia and called the hospital floor several minutes before the code, he was placed on hold because the nurse was busy with another patient. While he was holding, he observed worsening bradycardia, eventually transitioning to asystole, and tried to redial the unit, but no one answered.
Neal L. Benowitz, MD; April 2019
A woman who required oxygen at home via nasal cannula and used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine at night was admitted for an exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease without any signs of infection. During her hospital stay, she continued to require 5 liters of oxygen by nasal cannula. Although the patient had received smoking cessation education and no longer smoked regular cigarettes, she did continue to vape with an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). Having not been told to avoid vaping in the hospital, the patient took a puff on her e-cigarette while she was receiving oxygen through her nasal cannula and sparked an explosion. She ripped off the nasal cannula, which had melted, and sustained burns to her face and hand, resulting in a prolonged hospitalization for burn care and extensive pain management.
Stephanie Rogers, MD, and Derek Ward, MD; April 2019
An elderly man with a complicated medical history slipped on a rug at home, fell, and injured his hip. Emergency department evaluation and imaging revealed no head injury and a left intertrochanteric hip fracture. Although he was admitted to the orthopedic surgery service, with surgery to fix the fracture initially scheduled for the next day, the operation was delayed by 3 days due to several emergent trauma cases and lack of surgeon availability. He ultimately underwent surgery and was discharged a few days later but was readmitted several weeks later with chest pain and shortness of breath. He was found to have a pulmonary embolism; anticoagulation was initiated. The patient's rehabilitation was delayed, his recovery was prolonged, and he never returned to his baseline functional status.
- Spotlight Case
C. Craig Blackmore, MD, MPH; March 2019
A woman with multiple myeloma required placement of a central venous catheter for apheresis. The outpatient oncologist intended to order a nontunneled catheter via computerized provider order entry but accidentally ordered a tunneled catheter. The interventional radiologist thought the order was unusual but didn't contact the oncologist. A tunneled catheter was placed without complications. When the patient presented for apheresis, providers recognized the wrong catheter had been placed, and the patient underwent an additional procedure.
Rommel Sagana, MD, and Robert C. Hyzy, MD; March 2019
Following an elective carotid endarterectomy, an elderly woman was extubated in the operating room (OR) and brought to the recovery area. She soon developed respiratory distress necessitating urgent reintubation, which required multiple attempts. She was found to have an expanding neck hematoma, which was drained safely in the OR. Later that day after a half hour weaning trial, the respiratory therapist extubated the patient without checking for a cuff leak. Within 15 minutes, she developed acute shortness of breath and stridor, which rapidly progressed to hypoxemic respiratory failure. Urgent reintubation was difficult because her vocal cords were edematous.
Nicole M. Acquisto, PharmD, and Daniel J. Cobaugh, PharmD; March 2019
Seen in the emergency department, a man with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus had not taken insulin for 3 days. His blood glucose levels were in the 800s with an anion-gap acidosis and positive beta hydroxybutyrate. While awaiting an ICU bed for treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis, the patient received fluids, an insulin drip was started, and blood glucose levels were monitored hourly. When lab results showed he was improving, the team decided to convert his insulin drip to subcutaneous long-acting insulin. However, both the intern and the resident ordered 50 units of insulin, and the patient received both doses—causing his blood glucose level to dip into the 30s.
- Spotlight Case
Stephanie Mueller, MD, MPH; February 2019
To transfer a man with possible sepsis to a hospital with subspecialty and critical care, a physician was unaware of a formal protocol and called a colleague at the academic medical center. The colleague secured a bed, and the patient was sent over. However, neither clinical data nor the details of the patient's current condition were transmitted to the hospital's transfer center, and the receiving physician booked a general ward bed rather than an ICU bed. When the patient arrived, his mentation was altered and breathing was rapid. The nurse called the rapid response team, but the patient went into cardiac arrest.
Lina Bergman, RN, MSc, and Wendy Chaboyer, RN, PhD; February 2019
Following surgery under general anesthesia, a boy was extubated and brought to postanesthesia care unit (PACU). Due to the patient's age and length of the surgery, the PACU anesthesiologist ordered continuous pulse-oximetry monitoring for 24 hours. Deemed stable to leave the PACU, the boy was transported to the regular floor. When the nurse went to place the patient on pulse oximetry, she realized he was markedly hypoxic. She administered oxygen by face mask, but he became bradycardic and hypotensive and a code blue was called.
Robert Chang, MD, and Scott Flanders, MD; February 2019
A woman was admitted to a hospital's telemetry floor for management of uncontrolled hypertension and palpitations. On the first hospital day, she complained of right arm numbness and weakness and had new difficulty answering questions. The nurse called the hospitalist and relayed the arm symptoms, but not the word-finding difficulty. The hospitalist asked the nurse to call for a neurology consultation. Four hours later, the patient's weakness had progressed; she was now completely unable to move her right arm. At that point, neither the hospitalist nor the neurology consultant had evaluated the patient in person. A stat head CT revealed a large ischemic stroke.
- Spotlight Case
Timothy R. Kreider, MD, PhD, and John Q. Young, MD, MPP, PhD; January 2019
A woman with a history of psychiatric illness presented to the emergency department with agitation, hallucinations, tachycardia, and transient hypoxia. The consulting psychiatric resident attributed the tachycardia and hypoxia to her underlying agitation and admitted her to an inpatient psychiatric facility. Over the next few days, her tachycardia persisted and continued to be attributed to her psychiatric disease. On hospital day 5, the patient was found unresponsive and febrile, with worsening tachycardia, tachypnea, and hypoxia; she had diffuse myoclonus and increased muscle tone. She was transferred to the ICU of the hospital, where a chest CT scan revealed bilateral pulmonary emboli (explaining the tachycardia and hypoxia), and clinicians also diagnosed neuroleptic malignant syndrome (a rare and life-threatening reaction to some psychiatric medications).
Brian Clay, MD; January 2019
Following urgent catheter-directed thrombolysis to relieve acute limb ischemia caused by thrombosis of her left superficial femoral artery, an elderly woman was admitted to the ICU. While ordering a heparin drip, the resident was unaware that the EHR order set had undergone significant changes and inadvertently ordered too low a heparin dose. Although the pharmacist and bedside nurse noticed the low dose, they assumed the resident selected the dose purposefully. Because the patient was inadequately anticoagulated, she developed extensive thrombosis associated with the catheter and sheath site, requiring surgical intervention for critical limb ischemia (including amputation of the contralateral leg above the knee).
Elise Orvedal Leiten, MD, and Rune Nielsen, MD, PhD; January 2019
Hospitalized in the ICU with hypoxic respiratory failure due to community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man had increased pulmonary secretions on hospital day 2 for which the critical care provider decided to perform bedside bronchoscopy. Following the procedure, the patient was difficult to arouse, nearly apneic, and required intubation. The care team paused and discovered that after the patient had received 2 mg of intravenous midalozam, his IV line had been flushed with an additional 10 mg of the benzodiazepine, rather than the intended normal saline. This high dose of midazolam led to the respiratory failure requiring intubation. On top of that, instead of normal saline, lidocaine had been used for the lung lavage.
- Spotlight Case
Olle ten Cate, PhD; November 2018
An ICU patient with head and spine trauma was sent for an MRI. Due his critical condition, hospital policy required a physician and nurse to accompany the patient to the MRI scanner. The ICU attending assigned a new intern, who felt unprepared to handle any crises that might arise, to transport the patient along with the nurse. While in a holding area awaiting the MRI, the patient's heart rate fell below 20 beats per minute, and the experienced ICU nurse administered atropine to recover his heart rate and blood pressure. The intern worried he had placed the patient's life at risk because of his inexperience, but he also felt uncomfortable speaking up.
Kheyandra Lewis, MD, and Glenn Rosenbluth, MD; November 2018
Early in the academic year, interns were on their first day of a rotation caring for an elderly man hospitalized for a stroke, who had developed aspiration pneumonia and hypernatremia. When the primary intern signed out to the cross-cover intern, he asked her to check the patient's sodium level and replete the patient with IV fluids if needed. Although the cross-covering intern asked for more clarification, the intern signing out assured her the printed, written signout had all the information needed. Later that evening, the patient's sodium returned at a level above which the written signout stated to administer IV fluids, and after reviewing the plan with the supervising resident, the intern ordered them. The next morning the primary team was surprised, stating that the plan had been to give fluids only if the patient was definitely hypernatremic. Confused, the cross-cover intern pointed out the written signout instructions. On further review, the primary intern realized he had printed out the previous day's signout, which had not been updated with the new plan.
Jeanna Blitz, MD; November 2018
When patients in two cases did not receive complete preanesthetic evaluation, problems with intubation ensued. In the first case, an anesthesiologist went to evaluate a morbidly obese patient scheduled for hysteroscopy. As the patient was donning her hospital gown behind a closed curtain, he waited but left without performing the preoperative assessment because the morning surgery list was overbooked and he had many other patients to see. Once in the operating room, he discovered on chart review that the woman had a history of gastroesophageal reflux. She could not be intubated, and a supraglottic airway was placed. In the second case, an elderly man with a tumor mass at the base of his tongue was scheduled for a biopsy. On examination, the anesthesiologist could not see much of the mass with the patient's mouth maximally open and tongue sticking out, and he couldn't locate the patient's head and neck CT to further evaluate the mass. The surgeon arrived late and did not communicate with the anesthesiologist about the patient. After inducing general anesthesia, laryngoscopy and intubation proved extremely difficult as the mass obscured the view of the larynx. A second anesthesiologist was called, and together they were able to intubate the patient with a fiberoptic bronchoscope.
- Spotlight Case
Ifedayo Kuye, MD, MBA, and Chanu Rhee, MD, MPH; October 2018
Admitted with generalized weakness, nausea, and low blood pressure, an elderly man was given IV fluids and broad spectrum antibiotics. Laboratory test results revealed a mildly elevated white count, acute kidney injury, and elevated liver function tests. The patient was admitted to the medical ICU with a presumed diagnosis of septic shock. His blood pressure continued to trend downward. While reviewing the emergency department test results, the ICU resident noticed the patient's troponin level was markedly elevated and his initial ECG revealed T-wave inversions. A repeat ECG in the ICU showed obvious ST segment elevations, diagnostic of an acute myocardial infarction. The resident realized that the patient's low blood pressure was likely due to the myocardial infarction, not septic shock. He underwent urgent cardiac catheterization and was found to have complete occlusion of the right coronary artery, for which a stent was placed.
Thomas J. Balcezak, MD, MPH, and Ohm Deshpande, MD; October 2018
An elderly man presented to the emergency department (ED) with decreased oral intake, fevers, confusion, and falling urine output. Laboratory test results revealed acute-on-chronic renal failure, and an ECG showed tall T waves, potentially a sign of severe hyperkalemia and a precursor of a dangerous arrhythmia. The ED physician initiated treatment for hyperkalemia, and the on-call intensivist and nephrologist agreed the patient needed urgent hemodialysis. Although they planned to place a hemodialysis catheter and start dialysis as soon as possible, the ICU was full and the patient was forced to "board" in the ED. On arrival to the ICU, 5 hours after the initial labs, the patient was hypotensive and unarousable. The patient went into cardiac arrest, was intubated, and received urgent treatment for hyperkalemia. The nephrologist arrived and was surprised the hemodialysis had not been started. The dialysis nurse had been told to start the dialysis after the patient arrived in the ICU but was unaware of the urgency of the situation.
Steven Plogsted, PharmD; October 2018
A 1-month-old preterm infant in the NICU receiving the standard 500 mL bag of 0.45% sodium chloride (NaCl) with heparin at low rates developed hyponatremia. Clinicians recognized the need to deliver a more concentrated sodium solution and ordered that the IV fluid be changed to a 500 mL bag of 0.9% NaCl with heparin. However, due to a natural disaster affecting the supply chain for IV fluids, 0.9% NaCl 500 mL bags were in short supply, and the order was modified to use 100 mL 0.9% NaCl bags, which were available. Since the total volume was much smaller, a lower concentration formulation of heparin was required. However, the verifying pharmacist discovered that an 10-fold higher concentration had been used to compound the fluids, and further investigation revealed this same error had occurred on five other occasions.
- Spotlight Case
David J. Lucier, MD, MBA, MPH, and Jeffrey L. Greenwald, MD; September 2018
An older woman with lung cancer that had metastasized to the brain was admitted to the hospital and found to have Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PJP pneumonia), invasive pulmonary aspergillus, diffuse myopathy, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Medication reconciliation revealed that she had been prescribed a high dose of dexamethasone to reduce the brain swelling associated with the cancer. Although the intention had been to taper the steroids after she received radiotherapy for her brain metastases, the corticosteroids were never tapered, and she continued to take high-dose steroids for more than 2 months. Physicians believed that all of her acute issues were a result of the mistakenly high dose of the steroids.
Jason Bergsbaken, PharmD; September 2018
A woman with cancer was admitted to begin a chemotherapy cycle of IV etoposide (daily for 3 days) and IV cisplatin (single dose). At the hospital's cancer center satellite pharmacy, the pharmacist entered the order into the computer and prepared the first dose of the medications. While transcribing the order, the pharmacist inadvertently switched the duration of therapy for the two agents. The transposition did not affect the patient's first day of therapy. The second day fell on a Saturday, when the satellite pharmacy was closed; a different pharmacist who did not have access to the original chemotherapy order prepared the therapy order. Cisplatin was labeled, dispensed, and reached the bedside. The nurse bypassed the double-check policy for verifying the order prior to administration, and the patient received the second dose of cisplatin instead of the intended dose of etoposide.