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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Non-Health Care Professionals
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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.
Mohammad Farhad Peerally, MBChB, MRCP, and Mary Dixon-Woods, DPhil; May 2018
For a man with end-stage renal disease, a transplanted kidney was connected successfully. As the surgery was nearing completion, the surgeon instructed the anesthesiologist to give 3000 units of heparin. When preparing to close the incision, the clinicians noticed severe bleeding. The patient's blood pressure dropped, and transfusions were administered while they tried to stop the bleeding. The anesthesiologist mistakenly had administered 30,000 units of heparin. Although the surgical team administered protamine to reverse the anticoagulant effect, the bleeding and hypotension had irreversibly damaged the transplanted kidney.
Brian F. Olkowski, DPT; Mary Ravenel, MSN; and Michael F. Stiefel, MD, PhD; April 2018
Following elective lumbar drain placement to treat hydrocephalus and elevated intracranial pressures, a woman was admitted to the ICU for monitoring. After the patient participated in prescribed physical therapy on day 5, she complained of headaches, decreased appetite, and worsening visual problems—similar to her symptoms on admission. The nurse attributed the complaints to depression and took no action. Early in the morning, the patient was found barely arousable. The lumbar drain had dislodged, and a CT scan revealed the return of extensive hydrocephalus.
- Spotlight Case
Craig A. Umscheid, MD, MSCE; John D. McGreevey, III, MD; and S. Ryan Greysen, MD, MHS, MA; December 2017
Found unconscious at home, an older woman with advanced dementia and end-stage renal disease was resuscitated in the field and taken to the emergency department, where she was registered with a temporary medical record number. Once her actual medical record was identified, her DNR/DNI status was identified. After recognizing this and having discussions with the family, she was transitioned to comfort care and died a few hours later. Two months later, the clinic called the patient's home with an appointment reminder. The primary care physician had not been contacted about the patient's hospitalization and the electronic record system had not listed the patient as deceased.
Ian Solsky, MD, and Alex B. Haynes, MD, MPH; December 2017
Prior to performing a bilateral femoral artery embolectomy on a man with coronary artery disease and diabetes, the team used a surgical safety checklist for a preoperative briefing. Although the surgeon told the anesthesiologist the patient would benefit from epidural analgesia continued into the perioperative period, he failed to mention the patient would be therapeutically anticoagulated for several days postoperatively. No postoperative debriefing was conducted. The anesthesiologist continued orders for epidural analgesia and the epidural catheter remained in place, putting the patient at risk of bleeding.
- Spotlight Case
Anne M. Turner, MD, MLIS, MPH; October 2017
A Spanish-speaking woman presented to an urgent care clinic complaining of headache and worsening dizziness, for which the treating clinician ordered an MRI. When the results came in with no concerning findings later that day, the provider used Google Translate to write a letter informing the patient of the results. The patient interpreted the letter to mean that the results were concerning. This miscommunication led to patient distress and extra visits to both urgent care and the emergency department.
Nancy Staggers, PhD, RN; October 2017
Hospitalized with sepsis secondary to an infected IV line through which she was receiving treprostnil (a high-alert medication used to treat pulmonary hypertension), a woman was transferred to interventional radiology for placement of a new permanent catheter once the infection cleared. Sign-off between departments included a warning not to flush the line since it would lead to a dangerous overdose. However, while attempting to identify an infusion pump alarm, a radiology technician accidentally flushed the line, which led to a near code situation.
Vinod K. Bhutani, MD, and Ronald J. Wong; October 2017
A newborn with elevated total serum bilirubin (TSB) due to hemolytic disease was placed on a mattress with embedded phototherapy lights for treatment, but the TSB continued to climb. The patient was transferred to the neonatal ICU for an exchange transfusion. The neonatologist requested testing of the phototherapy lights, and their irradiance level was found to be well below the recommended level. The lights were replaced, the patient's TSB level began to drop, and the exchange transfusion was aborted.
Jennifer Morris and Marie Bismark, MD; September 2016
Assuming its dosing was similar to morphine, a physician ordered 4 mg of IV hydromorphone for a hospitalized woman with pain from acute pancreatitis. As 1 mg of IV hydromorphone is equivalent to 4 mg of morphine, this represented a large overdose. The patient was soon found unresponsive and apneic—requiring ICU admission, a naloxone infusion overnight, and intubation. While investigating the error, the hospital found other complaints against that particular physician.
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.
Jeanne M. Farnan, MD, MHPE; April 2016
A man with a pulmonary embolus was ordered argatroban for anticoagulation. The next day, an intern noticed that the patient in the next room, a woman with a GI bleed, had argatroban hanging on her IV pole, but the label showed the name of the man with the pulmonary embolus. The nurse was notified, the medication was stopped, and the error was disclosed to the patient.
- Spotlight Case
Tara Kirkpatrick, MD, and Chad LaGrange, MD; February 2016
Despite mechanical problems with the robotic arms during a robotic-assisted prostatectomy, the surgeon continued using the technology and completed the operation. Following the procedure, the patient developed serious bleeding requiring multiple blood transfusions, several additional surgeries, and a prolonged hospital stay.
Christine M. Gillis, PharmD; Jeremy R. Degrado, PharmD; and Kevin E. Anger, PharmD; February 2016
Presenting with a cough and shortness of breath, a woman with end-stage renal disease was admitted to the medical floor after undergoing hemodialysis. She was given allergy and sleep medications at her home dosages. The next morning the patient was extremely drowsy and unresponsive to painful stimuli. A "Code Stroke" was called.
- Spotlight Case
Amy Vogelsmeier, PhD, RN, and Laurel Despins, PhD, RN; January 2016
Admitted to the hospital for chemotherapy, a man with leukemia and diabetes arrived on the medical unit on a busy afternoon and waited until his room was ready. The nurse who checked him in assumed that his admitting orders were completed on the previous shift. That night, the patient took his own insulin from home without a meal and experienced a preventable episode of hypoglycemia.
- Spotlight Case
Michele M. Pelter, RN, PhD, and Barbara J. Drew, RN, PhD; December 2015
Following a non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, a man was admitted to the hospital and placed on a telemetry monitor. As the monitor was constantly sounding with "low voltage" and "asystole" alerts and the patient was well each time clinicians checked, they silenced the alarms. The patient was found dead 4 hours later.
Kevin Moore, MBBS, PhD; December 2015
A man with cirrhosis and abdominal distension was found to have significant ascites. The emergency department providers performed a large volume paracentesis to relieve his symptoms, but, as the 10th liter of fluid was removed, the patient became acutely hypotensive.
Tosha Wetterneck, MD, MS; December 2015
Hospitalized with nonketotic hyperglycemia, a man was placed on IV insulin and his blood sugars improved. That evening, the patient was transferred to the ICU with chest pain and his IV insulin order was changed to sliding scale subcutaneous insulin. However, over the next several hours, the patient again developed hyperglycemia.
The Risks of Absent Interoperability: Medication-Induced Hemolysis in a Patient With a Known Allergy
- Spotlight Case
Jacob Reider, MD; October 2015
After leaving Hospital X against medical advice, a man with paraplegia presented to the emergency department of Hospital Y with pain and fever. The patient was diagnosed with sepsis and admitted to Hospital Y for management. In the night, the nurse found the patient unresponsive and called a code blue. The patient was resuscitated and transferred to the ICU, where physicians determined that the arrest was due to acute rupturing of his red blood cells (hemolysis), presumably caused by a reaction to the antibiotic. Later that day, the patient's records arrived from three hospitals where he had been treated recently. One record noted that he had previously experienced a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic, which was new information for the providers at Hospital Y.
- Spotlight Case
Charlie C. Kilpatrick, MD; September 2015
After several days of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, a pregnant woman visited the emergency department and was swiftly discharged with antibiotics for a UTI. However, she returned the next day with unchanged abdominal pain and more nausea and vomiting. Apart from a focused ultrasound to document her pregnancy, no further testing was done. The patient again returned the following day with increased pain and now appeared more ill. An MRI revealed a ruptured appendix.
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.