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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- Diagnostic Errors 35
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Health Care Providers
- Nurses 3
- Non-Health Care Professionals 23
- Patients 1
Jessica Katznelson, MD; September 2018
In a simulated cardiac resuscitation case of a 5-year-old boy found pulseless and apneic in the bathtub by a parent, many interprofessional teams had difficulty with resuscitation due to a lack of interoperability between the prestocked disposable laryngoscope blades and handles on the Broselow cart (a proprietary system designed to facilitate finding appropriate-sized equipment for pediatric patients requiring lifesaving interventions) with the emergency department's actual stock of blades and handles. This incompatibility led to significant delays and some failures to intubate. Teams often did not recognize the incompatibility and spent unnecessary time replacing batteries while others called for backup airway teams.
Stephen Bacak, DO, MPH, and Loralei Thornburg, MD; March 2018
A pregnant woman presented to the emergency department 3 times in 4 days, first with symptoms of upper respiratory infection, nausea, and fever; then abdominal cramps; then shortness of breath and abdominal pain. On the third visit, she was diagnosed with influenza and possible sepsis. In between visits, the patient had been taking acetaminophen (1g every 4 hours) to control her fever. Although she had signs of acute fulminant hepatitis due to acetaminophen overdose, administration of the antidote, N-acetylcysteine, was delayed for 10 hours.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Umar Sadat, MD, PhD, and Richard Solomon, MD; June 2017
To avoid worsening acute kidney injury in an older man with possible mesenteric ischemia, the provider ordered an abdominal CT without contrast, but the results were not diagnostic. Shortly later, the patient developed acute paralysis, and an urgent CT with contrast revealed blockage and a blood clot.
Lekshmi Santhosh, MD, and V. Courtney Broaddus, MD; June 2017
A woman with pneumothorax required urgent chest tube placement. After she showed improvement during her hospital stay, the pulmonary team requested the tube be disconnected and clamped with a follow-up radiograph 1 hour later. However, 3 hours after the tube was clamped, no radiograph had been done and the patient was found unresponsive, in cardiac arrest.
Maria C. Raven, MD, MPH, MSc; June 2017
Presenting with pain in her epigastric region and back, an older woman with a history of opioid abuse had abnormal vital signs and an elevated troponin level. Imaging revealed multiple spinal fractures and cord compression. Neurosurgery recommended conservative management overnight. However, her troponin levels spiked, and an ECG revealed myocardial infarction.
- Spotlight Case
Kyle Marshall, MD, and Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH; May 2017
Emergency department evaluation of a man with morbid obesity presenting with abdominal pain revealed tachycardia, hypertension, elevated creatinine, and no evidence of cholecystitis. Several hours later, the patient underwent CT scan; the physicians withheld contrast out of concern for his acute kidney injury. The initial scan provided no definitive answer. Ultimately, physicians ordered additional CT scans with contrast and diagnosed an acute aortic dissection.
Christopher M. Lehman, MD; May 2017
In the emergency department, an older man with multiple medical conditions was found to have evidence of acute kidney injury and an elevated serum potassium level. However, the blood sample was hemolyzed, which can alter the reading. Although the patient was admitted and a repeat potassium level was ordered, the physician did not institute treatment for hyperkalemia. Almost immediately after the laboratory called with a panic result indicating a dangerously high potassium level, the patient went into cardiac arrest.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
Timothy W. Farrell, MD; April 2015
For a man with hypertension, prostate cancer, and chronic kidney disease hospitalized with acute kidney injury, discharge planning created numerous challenges. The inpatient team wanted a 1-week follow up, but the patient was new to this health system and had not yet seen a primary care provider. With the next available appointment in 6 weeks, the patient was instructed to call the urgent care clinic (which offered only same-day appointments) 1 week later. However, he never made it to the clinic and presented to the emergency department 2 weeks later with poorly controlled hypertension.
Raymond L. Fowler, MD, and Melanie J. Lippmann, MD; July-August 2014
During a code blue, an intraosseous line was placed in the left tibia of an elderly woman after several unsuccessful attempts to obtain peripheral venous access. Following chest compressions and advanced cardiovascular life support protocol, spontaneous circulation returned and the patient was transferred to the intensive care unit. A few hours later, the left leg was dusky purple with sluggish distal pulses.
Erika Abramson, MD, MS, and Rainu Kaushal, MD, MPH; September 2013
After a new electronic health record was introduced without automatically transferring patients' allergy information to the corresponding fields, a woman was given an antibiotic she was allergic to, which resulted in her being admitted to the intensive care unit.
- Spotlight Case
Nicholas Symons, MBChB, MSc; July-August 2013
An elderly woman with severe abdominal pain was admitted for an emergency laparotomy for presumed small bowel obstruction. Shortly after induction of anesthesia, her heart stopped. She was resuscitated and transferred to the intensive care unit, where she died the next morning. The review committee felt this case represented a diagnostic error, which led to unnecessary surgery and a preventable death.
Steven K. Polevoi, MD; December 2012
Following an emergency department (ED) evaluation for chest pain, a patient was discharged with a presumptive diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Two days later, he returned to the ED in severe distress, now with an acute myocardial infarction and a large pericardial effusion.
Jeffrey M. Rohde, MD, and Scott A. Flanders, MD; November 2012
A 32-year-old man went to the emergency department with fever and pleuritic chest pain. Following an extensive work-up, he was discharged with "fever, pleural effusion, and chest wall pain", but no clear diagnosis. He returned to the ED 3 days later with worsening pain, continued fever, a new cough, and dyspnea. The patient was started on antibiotics and admitted for pneumonia with effusion.
Joseph S. Alpert, MD; November 2012
A woman with new onset chest pain was admitted to the hospital. Although the computer readout of her electrocardiogram stated "***ACUTE MI***" at the top, the nursing assistant who performed the test placed it in the patient's bedside chart without notifying a nurse or physician. The patient was, in fact, having a myocardial infarction, whose treatment was delayed.
Elizabeth Manias, PhD, RN, MPharm; October 2012
After having a seizure in the emergency department, a woman was to receive intravenous administration of an antiseizure medication. The nurse misread the medication order, gathered 32 vials of the medication, and administered a 10-fold overdose to the patient, who died several minutes later.