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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- Communication between Providers 21
- Culture of Safety 1
- Education and Training 12
Error Reporting and Analysis
- Error Analysis 7
- Human Factors Engineering 16
- Legal and Policy Approaches 5
- Logistical Approaches 4
- Policies and Operations 1
- Quality Improvement Strategies 18
- Specialization of Care 4
- Teamwork 4
- Clinical Information Systems 4
- Alert fatigue 1
- Device-related Complications 7
- Diagnostic Errors 8
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 14
- Drug shortages 1
- Failure to rescue 1
- Identification Errors 2
- Interruptions and distractions 3
- Delirium 1
- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events 16
- MRI safety 1
- Nonsurgical Procedural Complications 7
- Psychological and Social Complications 1
- Surgical Complications 2
- Internal Medicine 17
- Nursing 9
- Palliative Care 1
- Health Care Executives and Administrators 19
Health Care Providers
- Nurses 9
- Non-Health Care Professionals 13
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.
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.
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.
Giovanni Elia, MD; Susan Barbour, RN, MS; and Wendy G. Anderson, MD, MS; August 2018
Hospitalized in the ICU after cardiac arrest and loss of cardiac function for 15 minutes, an older man experienced worsening neurological status. After extensive discussions about goals of care, the family agreed to a DNR order. Over the next week, his condition declined, and the family decided to transition to comfort measures. Orders were written but shortly thereafter, the family spoke with the ICU resident and reversed their decision. The resident canceled the terminal extubation orders without communicating the order change to other team members. Another nurse found the canceled orders, thought it was an error, and asked another physician (who was also unaware of the change in plans) to reinstate the orders. The patient was extubated and died a few hours later.
- Spotlight Case
Anna Parks, MD, and Margaret C. Fang, MD, MPH ; March 2018
One day after reading only the first line of a final ultrasound result (which stated that the patient had a thrombosis), an intern reported to the ICU team that the patient had a DVT. Because she had postoperative bleeding, the team elected to place an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter rather than administer anticoagulants to prevent a pulmonary embolism (PE). The next week, a new ICU team discussed the care plan and questioned the IVC filter. The senior resident reviewed the radiology records and found the ultrasound report actually stated the thrombosis was in a superficial vein with low risk for PE, which meant that the correct step in management of this patient's thrombosis should have been surveillance.
- Spotlight Case
Amy J. Starmer, MD, MPH, and Christopher P. Landrigan, MD, MPH ; February 2018
Admitted with an intracranial mass and hemorrhage, a woman with atrial fibrillation had been stable for several days when the ICU team and neurosurgeon decided that the benefits of low-dose DVT prophylaxis would outweigh the risk of serious bleeding. However, no dose or route of administration was specified, and the overnight resident ordered full-dose (rather than the prophylactic dose) anticoagulation. The hemorrhage grew and brain compression worsened, leaving the patient with no chance for meaningful recovery.
- Spotlight Case
Amir A. Ghaferi, MD, MS; August 2017
Admitted to gynecology due to excess bleeding and low hemoglobin after elective surgery, an older woman developed severe pain, nausea, and new-onset atrial fibrillation. She was moved to the telemetry unit where cardiologists treated her, and she had episodes of bloody vomit. Intensivists consulted, but the patient arrested while being transferred to the ICU and died despite maximal efforts.
Barbara Haas, MD, PhD, and Lesley Gotlib Conn, PhD; May 2017
Admitted to the ICU with septic shock, a man with a transplanted kidney developed hypotension and required new central venous access. Since providers anticipated using the patient's left internal jugular vein catheter for re-starting hemodialysis (making it unsuitable to use for resuscitation), the ICU team placed the central line in the right femoral vein. However, they failed to recognize that his transplanted kidney was on the right side, which meant that femoral catheter placement on that side was contraindicated.
Gregory A. Filice, MD; December 2016
An older woman experienced acute kidney injury after being prescribed a nephrotoxic medication (amphotericin) intended for the ICU patient in the next bed. Caring for both patients, the covering resident entered the medication order for the wrong patient despite a policy requiring infectious disease consultation to prescribe IV amphotericin.
- Spotlight Case
Vimla L. Patel, PhD, and Timothy G. Buchman, PhD, MD; July/August 2016
Admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with acute respiratory distress syndrome due to severe pancreatitis, an older woman had a central line placed. Despite maximal treatment, the patient experienced a cardiac arrest and was resuscitated. The intensivist was also actively managing numerous other ICU patients and lacked time to consider why the patient's condition had worsened.
Michael E. Detsky, MD, MSc; April 2016
During a hospitalization after a cardiac arrest, an older man underwent placement of a PEG tube for nutrition, and an abdominal radiograph the next day showed "free air under the diaphragm." Although the resident got a "curbside consult" from surgery saying this finding should be monitored, the consult was not documented in the chart. Two days later, the patient was urgently taken to surgery to repair a large gastric perforation and spillage of tube feeds into the peritoneum and then transferred to the ICU in septic shock.
LauraEllen Ashcraft, MSW, and Jeremy M. Kahn, MD, MS; September 2015
An 18-year-old who sustained a traumatic brain injury after a motor vehicle collision required a decompressive craniectomy, a prolonged stay in the adult trauma intensive care unit, and a second operation (cranioplasty) several weeks later. After the second procedure, the patient was transferred to a pediatric acute rehabilitation facility, had new onset seizures the next day, and was transferred to an acute pediatric hospital for evaluation. Findings indicated that another surgical procedure was needed, and he was then transferred back to the adult trauma facility where he had his surgeries.
Delphine Tuot, MDCM, MAS; September 2014
A patient with ALS was hospitalized with presumed pneumonia and sepsis. Although he was treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics and fluid resuscitation, additional potassium was administered due to his potassium level remaining low. The patient went into cardiac arrest and resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.
Karen Ousey, PhD, RGN; February 2014
A patient admitted for acute liver failure, acute renal failure, respiratory failure, and hepatic encephalopathy had a rectal tube placed to manage diarrhea. Two weeks into his hospitalization, dark red liquid stool was noted in the rectal tube, and the patient was found to have a large ulcerated area in the rectum, likely caused by the tube.
- Spotlight Case
Jeanne M. Farnan, MD, MHPE; and Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP; May 2012
Inadequate signout to the members of the night float team prevented them from appreciating a patient's mental status changes. Found comatose by the weekend cross-coverage team, the patient had a prolonged ICU stay.
- Spotlight Case
Jim Smith, PT, DPT, MA; October 2011
Admitted to the trauma service following severe injuries, a man is transferred to the ICU for mechanical ventilation. After 6 weeks of hospitalization, the patient's initial shoulder injury progressed to involve significantly limited mobility and pain, prompting concern that physical therapy should have been initiated earlier.
Jim Fackler, MD, and Jamie M. Schwartz, MD; October 2011
Residents and nurses assumed an ICU attending was conveying information to the surgeon and cardiologist about a toddler's deteriorating condition after heart surgery. However, none of the providers had a complete picture of the child's status, and he suffered a cardiac arrest.
Nancy Spector, PhD, RN ; March 2011
While caring for a complex patient in the surgical intensive care unit, a nurse incorrectly set up the continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) machine, raising questions about how new nurses should be trained in high-risk procedures.