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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Health Care Providers
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- Spotlight Case
C. Craig Blackmore, MD, MPH; March 2019
A woman with multiple myeloma required placement of a central venous catheter for apheresis. The outpatient oncologist intended to order a nontunneled catheter via computerized provider order entry but accidentally ordered a tunneled catheter. The interventional radiologist thought the order was unusual but didn't contact the oncologist. A tunneled catheter was placed without complications. When the patient presented for apheresis, providers recognized the wrong catheter had been placed, and the patient underwent an additional procedure.
Rommel Sagana, MD, and Robert C. Hyzy, MD; March 2019
Following an elective carotid endarterectomy, an elderly woman was extubated in the operating room (OR) and brought to the recovery area. She soon developed respiratory distress necessitating urgent reintubation, which required multiple attempts. She was found to have an expanding neck hematoma, which was drained safely in the OR. Later that day after a half hour weaning trial, the respiratory therapist extubated the patient without checking for a cuff leak. Within 15 minutes, she developed acute shortness of breath and stridor, which rapidly progressed to hypoxemic respiratory failure. Urgent reintubation was difficult because her vocal cords were edematous.
- 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.
Robert Chang, MD, and Scott Flanders, MD; February 2019
A woman was admitted to a hospital's telemetry floor for management of uncontrolled hypertension and palpitations. On the first hospital day, she complained of right arm numbness and weakness and had new difficulty answering questions. The nurse called the hospitalist and relayed the arm symptoms, but not the word-finding difficulty. The hospitalist asked the nurse to call for a neurology consultation. Four hours later, the patient's weakness had progressed; she was now completely unable to move her right arm. At that point, neither the hospitalist nor the neurology consultant had evaluated the patient in person. A stat head CT revealed a large ischemic stroke.
- Spotlight Case
Ifedayo Kuye, MD, MBA, and Chanu Rhee, MD, MPH; October 2018
Admitted with generalized weakness, nausea, and low blood pressure, an elderly man was given IV fluids and broad spectrum antibiotics. Laboratory test results revealed a mildly elevated white count, acute kidney injury, and elevated liver function tests. The patient was admitted to the medical ICU with a presumed diagnosis of septic shock. His blood pressure continued to trend downward. While reviewing the emergency department test results, the ICU resident noticed the patient's troponin level was markedly elevated and his initial ECG revealed T-wave inversions. A repeat ECG in the ICU showed obvious ST segment elevations, diagnostic of an acute myocardial infarction. The resident realized that the patient's low blood pressure was likely due to the myocardial infarction, not septic shock. He underwent urgent cardiac catheterization and was found to have complete occlusion of the right coronary artery, for which a stent was placed.
Thomas J. Balcezak, MD, MPH, and Ohm Deshpande, MD; October 2018
An elderly man presented to the emergency department (ED) with decreased oral intake, fevers, confusion, and falling urine output. Laboratory test results revealed acute-on-chronic renal failure, and an ECG showed tall T waves, potentially a sign of severe hyperkalemia and a precursor of a dangerous arrhythmia. The ED physician initiated treatment for hyperkalemia, and the on-call intensivist and nephrologist agreed the patient needed urgent hemodialysis. Although they planned to place a hemodialysis catheter and start dialysis as soon as possible, the ICU was full and the patient was forced to "board" in the ED. On arrival to the ICU, 5 hours after the initial labs, the patient was hypotensive and unarousable. The patient went into cardiac arrest, was intubated, and received urgent treatment for hyperkalemia. The nephrologist arrived and was surprised the hemodialysis had not been started. The dialysis nurse had been told to start the dialysis after the patient arrived in the ICU but was unaware of the urgency of the situation.
- Spotlight Case
David J. Lucier, MD, MBA, MPH, and Jeffrey L. Greenwald, MD; September 2018
An older woman with lung cancer that had metastasized to the brain was admitted to the hospital and found to have Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PJP pneumonia), invasive pulmonary aspergillus, diffuse myopathy, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Medication reconciliation revealed that she had been prescribed a high dose of dexamethasone to reduce the brain swelling associated with the cancer. Although the intention had been to taper the steroids after she received radiotherapy for her brain metastases, the corticosteroids were never tapered, and she continued to take high-dose steroids for more than 2 months. Physicians believed that all of her acute issues were a result of the mistakenly high dose of the steroids.
Jason Bergsbaken, PharmD; September 2018
A woman with cancer was admitted to begin a chemotherapy cycle of IV etoposide (daily for 3 days) and IV cisplatin (single dose). At the hospital's cancer center satellite pharmacy, the pharmacist entered the order into the computer and prepared the first dose of the medications. While transcribing the order, the pharmacist inadvertently switched the duration of therapy for the two agents. The transposition did not affect the patient's first day of therapy. The second day fell on a Saturday, when the satellite pharmacy was closed; a different pharmacist who did not have access to the original chemotherapy order prepared the therapy order. Cisplatin was labeled, dispensed, and reached the bedside. The nurse bypassed the double-check policy for verifying the order prior to administration, and the patient received the second dose of cisplatin instead of the intended dose of etoposide.
- Spotlight Case
Jeffrey Jim, MD, MPHS; August 2018
An older man with multiple medical conditions and an extensive smoking history was admitted to the hospital with worsening shortness of breath. He underwent transthoracic echocardiogram, which demonstrated severe aortic stenosis. The cardiology team recommended cardiac catheterization, but the interventional cardiologist could not advance the catheter and an aortogram revealed an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) measuring 9 cm in diameter. Despite annual visits to his primary care physician, he had never undergone screening ultrasound to assess for presence of an AAA. The patient was sent emergently for surgical repair but had a complicated surgical course.
- Spotlight Case
Resa E. Lewiss, MD; July 2018
After an emergency department (ED) physician interpreted results of a point-of-care ultrasound as showing stable low ejection fraction, some volume overload, and a mechanical mitral valve in place without regurgitation for a man with a history of congestive heart failure, end-stage renal disease, and mechanical mitral valve replacement who presented with shortness of breath, the patient was admitted with a presumed diagnosis of volume overload. Reassured by the ED physician's interpretation of the ultrasound, the hospitalist ordered no further cardiac testing. The patient underwent hemodialysis, felt better, and was discharged. Less than 12 hours later, the patient returned critically ill and in cardiogenic shock. An emergency transthoracic echocardiogram found a thrombosed mitral valve, which had led to acute mitral stenosis and cardiogenic shock.
Rita L. McGill, MD, MS; July 2018
Admitted to the hospital with an ulcer on his right foot, a man with diabetes and stage IV chronic kidney disease had an MRI concerning for osteomyelitis, and a bone biopsy showed chronic inflammation with cultures positive for methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus. To administer outpatient parenteral antimicrobial therapy, interventional radiology attempted to place a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) in the right brachial vein multiple times but failed. They then placed it in the left brachial vein. The patient completed 6 weeks of antibiotic therapy and wound care, and the PICC was removed. Five months later with worsening renal function and hyperphosphatemia, the patient required dialysis access, but he was not a candidate for arteriovenous fistula placement since the many venipuncture attempts during PICC placement resulted in poor vein quality.
Deborah Debono, PhD, RN, and Tracy Levett-Jones, PhD, RN; July 2018
A young adult with a progressive neurological disorder presented to an emergency department from a nursing home with a dislodged GJ tube. As a workaround to maintain patency when the GJ tube was dislodged, nursing home staff had inserted a Foley catheter into the ostomy, inflated the Foley bulb in the stomach, and tied the distal portion of the catheter in a loose knot. When the patient went to interventional radiology for new GJ tube placement, clinicians found no Foley but inserted a new GJ tube. Discharged to the nursing home, the patient was readmitted 2 days later with fever and increasing abdominal distention. An abdominal CT scan showed an obstructing foreign body in the small bowel.
- Spotlight Case
A. Clinton MacKinney, MD, MS, and Nicholas M. Mohr, MD, MS; June 2018
After presenting to a rural emergency department with chest pain, a man with a history of diabetes awaited admission to the hospital. The off-site admitting internist ordered aspirin and a heparin drip, but neither medication was administered. On transfer to the acute care unit 2 hours later, the patient was diaphoretic, somnolent, tachycardic, and borderline hypotensive. The nurse called the internist and realized the heparin drip had never been started. When she went to administer it, the patient was unresponsive, hypotensive, and bradycardic. She called a code blue.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Eric Poon, MD, MPH; May 2018
An elderly man with a history of giant cell arteritis (GCA) presented to the rheumatology clinic with recurrent headaches one month after stopping steroids. A blood test revealed that his C-reactive protein was elevated, suggesting increased inflammation and a flare of his GCA. However, his rheumatologist was out of town and did not receive the test result. Although the covering physician saw the result, she relayed just the patient's last name without the medical record number. Because the primary rheumatologist had another patient with the same last name, GCA, and a normal CRP, follow-up with the correct patient was delayed until his next set of blood tests.
Jamie M. Robertson, PhD, MPH, and Charles N. Pozner, MD; April 2018
A clinical team decided to use a radial artery approach for cardiac catheterization in a woman with morbid obesity. It took multiple attempts to access her radial artery. After catheter insertion, she experienced pain and pressure in her arm and chest. Review of the angiogram demonstrated the presence of an air embolism in the left coronary artery, introduced during the catheter insertion. Due to the difficulty of the procedure, the technician had failed to hold the syringe at the proper angle and introduced an air bubble into the patient's vessel.
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.
Varalakshmi Janamanchi, MD; Kunjam Modha, MD; and Christopher Whinney, MD; December 2017
At a preoperative evaluation for skin grafting surgery, a man's prescription medications were reviewed and updated in his medical record. During surgery, the patient experienced profuse bleeding, requiring transfusion with multiple units of blood. Postoperatively, the patient stabilized and the attending surgeon reexamined the patient's medications with him and asked about over-the-counter medications. The patient had been taking one aspirin per day, including the day of surgery. Although the patient was asked about blood-thinning medications at the preoperative visit, he was not asked about over-the-counter medications.
Cristiane Gomes-Lima, MD, and Kenneth D. Burman, MD; November 2017
Two cases in which thyroid function tests were ordered appropriately but not acted upon in a timely fashion illustrate the challenges of thyroid emergencies. The patient in Case #1 had a history of hyperthyroidism and noted not taking his medications for months, yet no one addressed his abnormal thyroid function tests until hospital day 3. He had thyroid storm. In Case #2, providers neglected to follow up on the patient's abnormal thyroid function tests, even though she was taking a medication with a known risk of thyroid toxicity. She had myxedema coma.