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 Improvement 13
- Culture of Safety 1
- Education and Training 4
- Error Reporting and Analysis 2
- Human Factors Engineering 5
- Legal and Policy Approaches 4
- Logistical Approaches 1
- Quality Improvement Strategies 9
- Specialization of Care 2
- Teamwork 1
- Technologic Approaches 4
- Diagnostic Errors 12
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 11
- Interruptions and distractions 1
- Medical Complications 3
- Medication Safety 4
- Psychological and Social Complications 1
- Surgical Complications 1
- Internal Medicine
- Nursing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Albert Wu, MD, MPH; November 2011
An elderly man discharged from the emergency department with syringes of anticoagulant for home use mistakenly picked up a syringe of atropine left by his bedside. At home the next day, he attempted to inject the atropine, but luckily was not harmed.
Richard Rothman, MD, PhD; Sahael Stapleton, MD; May 2011
An emergency department worker develops chicken pox following an exposure during one of his shifts.
Christopher Roy, MD; February 2011
A week after successful pacemaker placement, an elderly man developed chest pain and was admitted to the hospital without having an urgent echocardiogram. Although providers felt that he "looked fine," the patient became acutely hypotensive, developed ventricular tachycardia and pulseless electrical activity, and required emergent resuscitative measures for cardiac tamponade.
Robert J. Weber, PharmD, MS; February 2010
An elderly woman presented to the emergency department following a hip fracture. Although the patient's medication bottles were used to generate a medication list, one of the dosages was transcribed incorrectly. Because the patient then received four times her regular dose, her surgery was delayed due to cardiac side effects.
Manish K. Sethi, MD; February 2010
Over the course of 2 years, a patient who frequently came to the emergency department complaining of abdominal pain underwent 12 CT scans of the abdomen and pelvis. All of them were completely normal.
Gurpreet Dhaliwal, MD; December 2009
Physicians confuse the terminology on a preliminary radiology report and diagnose a woman with foot and ankle pain as having a low-risk case of superficial vein thrombosis, rather than the more dangerous deep vein thrombosis she actually had.
Jeffrey M. Weinberg, MD ; August2009
One day after being discharged from the ED, a woman with severe back pain returns and is admitted for observation and analgesics. The next morning, the hospitalist notes a vesicular rash in the exact distribution of the patient's pain symptoms and diagnoses a herpes zoster infection (shingles).
- Spotlight Case
Christopher Fee, MD; February-March 2009
Interrupted during a telephone handoff, an ED physician, despite limited information, must treat a patient in respiratory arrest. The patient is stabilized and transferred to the ICU with a presumed diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia and septic shock. Later, ICU physicians obtain further history that leads to the correct diagnosis: pulmonary embolism.
- Spotlight Case
Jesse M. Pines, MD, MBA, MSCE; January 2009
An elderly man, recently discharged from one hospital after having his automated internal cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD) replaced, is taken to another hospital when his AICD misfires multiple times.
- Spotlight Case
Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH; October 2008
An elderly, non–English-speaking man with diabetes was admitted to the hospital twice in 8 days due to hypoglycemia. At discharge, the patient was instructed not to take any antidiabetic medications. In between hospitalizations, he saw his primary care physician, who restarted an antidiabetic medication.
Susan C. Fagan, PharmD, BCPS, FCCP; April 2005
A patient with presumed stroke is given tPA before the results of her coagulation studies are known. Five minutes later, the lab reports that the INR was elevatedan absolute contraindication to thrombolytic therapy.
Jeanne Mandelblatt, MD, MPH; February 2004
A physician who does not accept Medicaid turns away a woman needing evaluation for 2 years of profuse vaginal bleeding. She later presents to the ED, where examination reveals invasive cervical cancer.
Marc J. Shapiro, MD; February 2004
Trusting an incorrectly labeled chest x-ray over physical exam findings, a resident places a chest tube for pneumothorax in the wrong side.