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
- Sbar 1
- Communication between Providers 25
- Culture of Safety 2
- Education and Training 10
- Error Reporting and Analysis 4
- Human Factors Engineering 8
- Legal and Policy Approaches 1
- Logistical Approaches 2
- Quality Improvement Strategies 5
- Specialization of Care 1
- Teamwork 2
- Clinical Information Systems 32
- Alert fatigue 4
- Diagnostic Errors 6
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 21
- Identification Errors 5
- Interruptions and distractions 3
- Medical Complications 2
- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events 18
- Nonsurgical Procedural Complications 1
- Psychological and Social Complications 4
- Surgical Complications 3
- Allied Health Services 1
- Internal Medicine 18
- Nursing 3
- Pharmacy 2
- 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.
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).
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.
Jennifer Faig, MD, and Jessica A. Zerillo, MD, MPH; June 2018
Admitted to the oncology service for chemotherapy treatment, a woman with leukemia was noted to be neutropenic on hospital day 6. She had some abdominal discomfort and had not had a bowel movement for 2 days. The overnight physician ordered a suppository without realizing that the patient was neutropenic and immunosuppressed. Unaware that suppositories are contraindicated in neutropenic patients, the nurse administered the suppository. The patient developed a fever soon after receiving the suppository and required transfer to the intensive care unit for hypotension and management of septic shock.
Robert E. O'Connor, MD, MPH; March 2018
Emergency medical service (EMS) providers obtained an electrocardiogram (ECG) in a woman who had developed severe chest pressure at home. The ECG revealed an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). Unfortunately, the ECG failed to transmit to the emergency department (ED) while EMS was en route, so a "Code STEMI" was not activated. Unaware of the original ECG results, ED clinicians obtained a repeat ECG that did not demonstrate the earlier ST segment elevations, and the patient was admitted to the telemetry unit for monitoring overnight. The next morning, lab results revealed an elevated troponin level and another ECG demonstrated she had a large heart attack the previous day. Although the patient was rushed to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, the delay in treatment led to significant loss of cardiac function.
Mary G. Amato, PharmD, MPH, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD; January 2018
Admitted for intravenous diuretic therapy and control of his atrial fibrillation, an older man was mistakenly given metoprolol tartrate instead of his home dose of extended-release metoprolol succinate. That night, he developed atrioventricular block, experienced a pulseless electrical activity cardiac arrest, and died. Review of the case identified problems in the human factors design in the computerized order entry system that contributed to the prescribing error.
Yael K. Heher, MD, MPH; November 2017
A resident entered orders into the EHR for a biopsy specimen of a patient's rash to be sent to pathology for evaluation. The biopsy specimen was delivered to the laboratory without a copy of the orders. Because pathology and the medicine service did not share the same EHR, the laboratory could neither view the orders nor direct the biopsy to the appropriate area for analysis without a printed copy. The next day, the resident attempted to look up the results but found none.
- 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.
John D. McGreevey III, MD; November 2016
A transition from paper orders to CPOE left out an important safety reminder, resulting in mismanagement of an elderly patient's low potassium and magnesium levels. This led to a fatal arrhythmia. The paper-based electrolyte order set had provided a reminder that magnesium replacement should accompany potassium replacement; however, in the computerized system, a separate order set was necessary for each electrolyte.
- Spotlight Case
Robert L. Wears, MD, PhD; October 2016
While attempting to order a CT scan with only oral contrast for a patient with poor kidney function, an intern ordering a CT for the first time selected "with contrast" from the list, not realizing that meant both oral and intravenous contrast. The patient developed contrast nephropathy.
Mitchell Levy, MD; October 2016
Administered antibiotics in the emergency department and rushed to the operating room for emergent cesarean delivery, a pregnant woman was found to have an infection of the amniotic sac. After delivery, she was transferred to the hospital floor without a continuation order for antibiotics. Within 24 hours, the inpatient team realized she had developed septic shock.
Kiran Gupta, MD, MPH, and Raman Khanna, MD; July/August 2016
A woman with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease underwent hip surgery and experienced shortness of breath postoperatively. A chest radiograph showed a pneumothorax, but the radiologist was unable to locate the first call physician to page about this critical finding.
Julia Adler-Milstein, PhD; July/August 2016
Because the hospital and the ambulatory clinic used separate electronic health records on different technology platforms, information on a new outpatient oxycodone prescription for a patient scheduled for total knee replacement was not available to the surgical team. The anesthesiologist placed an epidural catheter to administer morphine, and postoperatively the patient required naloxone and intubation.
- Spotlight Case
Maria J. Silveira, MD, MA, MPH; June 2016
An older man with multiple medical conditions was found hypoxic, hypotensive, and tachycardic. He was taken to the hospital. Providers there were unable to determine the patient's wishes for life-sustaining care, and, unaware that he had previously completed a DNR/DNI order, they placed him on a mechanical ventilator.
Steven L. Cohn, MD; June 2016
When a pregnant woman with fever, nausea, and headaches presented to the emergency department (ED), laboratory tests showed an incredibly high white blood cell count. Although the ED contacted the hematology service for a consultation, the urgency of the patient's clinical status was not conveyed, leading to a fatal delay in diagnosing and treating her acute myeloid leukemia.
Robert A. Green, MD, MPH, and Jason Adelman, MD, MS; January 2016
Presenting to his new primary physician's office for his first visit, a man was checked in under the record of an existing patient with the exact same name and age. The mistake wasn't noticed until the established patient received the new patient's test results by email.
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
John D. Halamka, MD, MS, and Deven McGraw, JD, MPH, LLM; July/August 2015
A hospitalized patient with advanced dementia was to undergo a brain MRI as part of a diagnostic workup for altered mental status. Hospital policy dictated that signout documentation include only patients' initials rather than more identifiable information such as full name or birth date. In this case, the patient requiring the brain MRI had the same initials as another patient on the same unit with severe cognitive impairment from a traumatic brain injury. The cross-covering resident mixed up the two patients and placed the MRI order in the wrong chart. Because the order for a "brain MRI to evaluate worsening cognitive function" could apply to either patient, neither the bedside nurse nor radiologist noticed the error.
Krishnan Padmakumari Sivaraman Nair, DM; July/August 2015
A 5-year-old boy with transverse myelitis presented to the rehabilitation medicine clinic for scheduled quarterly botulinum toxin injections to his legs for spasticity. Halfway through the course of injections, the patient's mother noted her son was tolerating the procedure "much better than 3 weeks earlier"—the patient had been getting extra injections without the physicians' knowledge. Physicians discussed the risks of too-frequent injections with the family. Fortunately, the patient had no adverse effects from the additional injections.