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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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.
Sonya P. Mehta, MD, MHS, and Karen B. Domino, MD, MPH; April 2015
During laparoscopic subtotal colon resection for adenocarcinoma, a patient's bladder was accidentally lacerated and surgeons repaired it without difficulty. As nurses set up bladder irrigation equipment, no one noticed the bag of solution was dripping into the power supply of an anesthesiology monitor. Suddenly sparks and flames began shooting from the monitor, and the OR filled with black smoke. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished quickly and neither the patient nor any OR staff was injured.
Jonathan R. Genzen, MD, PhD, and Heather N. Signorelli, DO; March 2015
After presenting to the emergency department, a woman with chest pain was given nitroglycerine and a so-called GI cocktail. Her electrocardiogram was unremarkable, and she was scheduled for a stress test the next morning. A few minutes into the stress test, the patient collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.
Amanda Wollitz, PharmD, and Michael O'Connor, PharmD, MS; March 2015
Admitted to the hospital with chest pain, headache, and accelerated hypertension, an older man with a history of chronic kidney disease and essential hypertension who had missed several days of his regular medications was to be started back on them gradually. One of his antihypertensive medications (minoxidil) was ordered via the EHR, but a vasopressor/antihypotensive medication with a similar name (midodrine) was dispensed. Fortunately, a nurse noticed the discrepancy before administration.
Ayse P. Gurses, PhD, and Peter Doyle, PhD; December 2014
An elderly man was being prepared for discharge after being hospitalized for an exacerbation of congestive heart failure. His nurse failed to notice that the tubing of the patient's sequential compression devices (in place to prevent DVT) was caught on the bed wheel and had unlocked the bed when she raised it. When the patient attempted to get up later, the bed rolled out from under him and he fell, breaking his hip. One week after surgery, the patient experienced a cardiac arrest from a massive pulmonary embolism and died.
Matthias Görges, PhD, and J. Mark Ansermino, MBBCh, MSc; September 2014
A man with atrial fibrillation underwent ablation in the catheterization laboratory under general endotracheal anesthesia. The patient was extremely stable during the 7-hour procedure with vital signs hardly changing over time. Inadvertently, the noninvasive blood pressure measurement stopped recording for 1 hour but went unnoticed. After the error was discovered, the case continued without any problems and the patient was discharged home the next day as planned.
Don C. Rockey, MD; July-August 2014
Presenting with jaundice and epigastric pain, a woman with a history of multiple malignancies was admitted directly for an ultrasound-guided liver biopsy. After the procedure, the patient had low blood pressure and complained of new abdominal pain, which worsened over the next 2 hours. The bedside nurse soon found the patient unresponsive.
Michelle Feil, MSN, RN; June 2014
Following removal of a central venous catheter placed during his admission for a prolonged course of intravenous antibiotics, a young man with a history of Behçet disease was discharged from the hospital. Shortly thereafter, he presented to the emergency department with acute onset shortness of breath and a "whistling sound" coming from his neck. Diagnosed with air embolism, he was admitted to the ICU.
James Stotts, RN, MS, CNS, and Audrey Lyndon, PhD, RNC; May 2014
In the preoperative area, a man scheduled for excision of a groin lipoma received regional anesthesia (right iliac block) and was taken to the operating room. There, without alerting anyone, the patient attempted to rise to use the restroom, but—because his leg was numb—fell and hit his head. He reported acute neck pain and was transferred to the local emergency department.
Paul C. Walker, PharmD, and Jerod Nagel, PharmD; April 2014
Following a hospitalization for Clostridium Difficile–associated diarrhea, a woman with HIV/AIDS and B-cell lymphoma was discharged with a prescription for a 14-day course of oral vancomycin solution. At her regular retail pharmacy, she was unable to obtain the medicine, and while awaiting coverage approval, she received no treatment. Her symptoms soon returned, prompting an emergency department visit where she was diagnosed with toxic megacolon.
William Ventres, MD, MA; March 2014
A teenager presented to an urgent care clinic with new bumps and white spots near her tongue. Although she was diagnosed with herpetic gingivostomatitis, the after-visit summary incorrectly populated the diagnosis of "thrush" from the triage information, which was not updated with the correct diagnosis. The mistake on the printout caused confusion for the patient's mother and necessitated several follow-up communications to clear up.
- Spotlight Case
Annie Yang, PharmD, BCPS; February 2014
Despite multiple checks by physician, pharmacist, and nurse during the medication ordering, dispensing, and administration processes, a patient received a 10-fold overdose of an opioid medication and a code blue was called.
- Spotlight Case
Margaret C. Fang, MD, MPH; December 2013
Two days after knee replacement surgery, a woman with a history of deep venous thrombosis receiving pain control via epidural catheter was restarted on her outpatient dose of rivaroxaban (a newer oral anticoagulant). Although the pain service fellow scanned the medication list for traditional anticoagulants, he did not notice the patient was taking rivaroxaban before removing the epidural catheter, placing the patient at very high risk for bleeding.
Daniel Saddawi-Konefka, MD, and Jeffrey B. Cooper, PhD; December 2013
Prior to coronary artery bypass surgery, a man with morbid obesity, hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, claustrophobia, and 3-vessel coronary artery disease was given oxygen to achieve pre-oxygenation. Within a few minutes, the anesthesia team noted the patient was unresponsive with shallow breathing. Further investigation revealed the anesthesia machine was delivering 12% desflurane (a general anesthetic) instead of oxygen alone.
Joseph G. Ouslander, MD, and Alice Bonner, PhD, GNP; December 2013
Following a lengthy hospitalization, an elderly woman was admitted to a skilled nursing facility for further care, where staff expressed concern about the complexity of the patient's illness. A few days later, the patient developed a fever and shortness of breath, prompting readmission to the acute hospital.
Jason S. Adelman, MD, MS; October 2013
After a hospitalized patient died, the intern went to fill out the death certificate and notify the family. However, he picked up the chart of a different patient and mistakenly notified another patient's wife that her husband had died. He soon realized he'd notified the wrong family.
Melissa Baysari, PhD; October 2013
An epilepsy patient's discharge plan included phenytoin to be taken once daily. The prescribing physician was somewhat unfamiliar with the electronic medical record (EMR), didn't notice that the default frequency for phenytoin was "TID," and overrode the resultant computerized alert about the high dosage.
Kirsten Engel, MD; July-August 2013
After changing the type of knee repair being done mid-procedure, a surgeon verbally informed the patient of drastically different discharge instructions in the post-anesthesia care unit but did not provide specific written instructions of the changed procedure or recovery plan to her or her husband.
Roy Ilan, MD, MSc; May 2013
A woman was emergently admitted for surgery for acute appendicitis. Although the patient had a chest port for breast cancer chemotherapy, the surgeon demanded that a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) be placed. The patient developed blood clots from the PICC, and surgery was cancelled. Significant complications, including perforation, peritonitis, and prolonged hospitalization, arose from managing the appendicitis conservatively.
David E. Newman-Toker, MD, PhD; April 2013
Admitted to the hospital with headache and word-finding difficulties, a man was given a preliminary diagnosis of vasculitis. Although serial imaging studies seemed to indicate progression of his brain lesions, these were not biopsied and discovered to be glioblastoma multiforme until 4 months later. The delay in diagnosis contributed to his rapid clinical decline.