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 14
- Culture of Safety 3
- Education and Training 6
- Error Reporting and Analysis 5
- Human Factors Engineering 14
- Legal and Policy Approaches 3
- Logistical Approaches 4
- Quality Improvement Strategies 8
- Specialization of Care 2
- Teamwork 4
- Clinical Information Systems 7
- Device-related Complications 5
- Diagnostic Errors 1
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 10
- Failure to rescue 1
- Identification Errors 2
- Interruptions and distractions 1
- Medical Complications 1
- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events 9
- MRI safety 1
- Nonsurgical Procedural Complications 2
- Psychological and Social Complications 2
- Surgical Complications 20
- Nursing 5
- Pharmacy 1
- Health Care Executives and Administrators 24
Health Care Providers
- Nurses 5
- Non-Health Care Professionals 11
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.
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.
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.
Michael J. Barrington, MBBS, PhD, and Yoshiaki Uda, MBBS; April 2017
An older woman admitted to the medical-surgical ward with multiple right-sided rib fractures received a paravertebral block to control the pain. After the procedure, the anesthesiologist realized that the block had been placed on the wrong side. The patient required an additional paravertebral block on the correct side, which increased her risk of complications and exposed her to additional medication.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ashish C. Sinha, MD, PhD; July-August 2013
Following general anesthesia for hip repair surgery, an elderly woman with a history of hypertension and obesity developed hypercarbic respiratory failure and was reintubated in the recovery unit. Providers felt the patient had undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea and questioned whether obese patients undergoing anesthesia should receive formal preoperative screening for it.
Rodney W. Hicks, PhD, RN, FNP; February 2013
After delivering a healthy infant via Caesarean section, a young woman was to receive morphine via PCA pump. A mix-up in programming the concentration of medication delivered by the pump led to a fatal outcome.
Matt M. Kurrek, MD, and Rebecca S. Twersky, MD, MPH; August 2012
Following spinal anesthesia for an outpatient procedure, a patient is discharged and instructed to take sitz baths with tepid water. The patient misunderstood the instructions, using scalding water instead, and residual anesthesia blunted his response to the hot water.
Kevin C. Huoh, MD; Kristina W. Rosbe, MD; June 2011
A healthy child underwent tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Extubated after an uneventful surgery, within an hour the child became hypoxic and unable to breathe spontaneously, requiring reintubation.
John C. Kulli, MD; May 2011
A surgery fellow put two syringes in his pocket: one containing leftover anesthetic and one with agents to reverse it. When it came time to reverse the neuromuscular block, he administered the anesthetic by mistake.
Jeffrey B. Cooper, PhD; Brinda B. Kamdar, MD; June 2010
Unaware of the plan to remove a spinal drain under general anesthesia, the on-call anesthesiologist attempted to remove it while the patient was awake. The catheter broke, leaving a portion inside the spinal canal. Consequently, a neurosurgeon had to surgically remove the catheter.
- Spotlight Case
Ernest J. Ring, MD; Jane E. Hirsch, RN, MS; October 2009
Cardiology consultation on an elderly man admitted to the orthopedic service following a hip fracture reveals aortic stenosis. The cardiologist recommends against surgery, due to the risk of anesthesia. When the nurse reads these recommendations to the orthopedic resident, he calls her "stupid" and contacts the OR to schedule the surgery anyway. The Chief Medical Officer is called to intervene.
Dorrie K. Fontaine, RN, PhD; October 2009
A toddler admitted for severe dehydration requires a femoral IV. The anesthesiologist ignores a nurse's reminder that hospital policy requires monitoring if a child is to receive sedation in the unit. When the nurse attempts to stop the procedure, the anesthesiologist throws the needle to the floor.
Christopher R. Lee, MD; October 2009
Following surgery for peripheral vascular disease, a patient otherwise ready for discharge complains of liquid shooting from his nose. The surgeons make the patient NPO and order a consultation from an otolaryngologist, who discovers the nasopharyngeal airway still lodged in the patient's nasal cavity.
Tim Vanderveen, PharmD, MS; May 2009
Hospitalized for an elective procedure, a patient is given heparin in an incorrect concentration—off by a factor of 100.
Stuart M. White, FRCA, BSc, MA; June 2007
Based on preoperative discussions, a patient undergoing knee replacement expected to receive spinal anesthesia; however, general anesthesia was administered, and the records did not note or explain this change. The patient suffered an unusual complication.