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
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- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events
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Health Care Providers
- Nurses 5
- Non-Health Care Professionals 12
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.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Daniel J. Morgan, MD, MS, and Andrew Foy, MD; March 2017
Brought to the emergency department from a nursing facility with confusion and generalized weakness, an older woman was found to have an elevated troponin level but no evidence of ischemia on her ECG. A consulting cardiologist recommended treating the patient with three anticoagulants. The next evening, she became acutely confused and a CT scan revealed a large intraparenchymal hemorrhage with a midline shift.
Scott D. Nelson, PharmD, MS; March 2017
Although meningitis and neurosyphilis were ruled out for a woman presenting with a headache and blurry vision, blood tests returned indicating latent (inactive) syphilis. Due to a history of penicillin allergy, the patient was sent for testing for penicillin sensitivity, which was negative. The allergist placed orders for neurosyphilis treatment—a far higher penicillin dose than needed to treat latent syphilis, and a treatment regimen that would have required hospitalization. Upon review, the pharmacist saw that neurosyphilis had been ruled out, contacted the allergist, and the treatment plan was corrected.
Jeffrey J. Mucksavage, PharmD, and Eljim P. Tesoro, PharmD; January 2017
An emergency department physician ordered a loading dose of IV phenytoin for a woman with a history of seizures and cardiac arrest. However, he failed to order that the loading dose be switched back to an appropriate (and lower) maintenance dose, and 3 days later the patient developed somnolence, severe ataxia, and dysarthria. Her serum phenytoin level was 3 times the maximum therapeutic level.
Osama Loubani, MD; January 2017
A man with a history of cardiac disease was brought to the emergency department for septic shock of possible intra-abdominal origin. A vasopressor was ordered. However, rather than delivering it through a central line, the norepinephrine was infused through a peripheral line. The medication extravasated into the subcutaneous tissue of the patient's arm. Despite attempts to salvage the patient's wrist and fingers, three of his fingertips had to be amputated.
Gregory A. Filice, MD; December 2016
An older woman experienced acute kidney injury after being prescribed a nephrotoxic medication (amphotericin) intended for the ICU patient in the next bed. Caring for both patients, the covering resident entered the medication order for the wrong patient despite a policy requiring infectious disease consultation to prescribe IV amphotericin.
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.
Annie Yang, PharmD, and Lewis Nelson, MD; September 2016
Admitted for knee surgery, a man was given his medications at 10 PM, including oral dofetilide (an antiarrhythmic agent with a strict 12-hour dosing interval). In the electronic health record, "q12 hour" drugs are scheduled for 6 AM and 6 PM by default. Because the patient was scheduled to leave for the operating room before 6 AM, the nurse gave the dose at 4 AM. Preoperative ECG revealed he had severe QTc prolongation (putting him at risk for a fatal arrhythmia), and surgery was canceled.
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.
Charles John Gonzalez, MD; April 2014
Scheduled for a hip replacement, a man with AIDS presented with sciatica. The spine surgeon administered a corticosteroid injection to control his symptoms. Soon after the patient experienced sweats, abdominal pain, weight gain, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety. He was diagnosed with Cushing syndrome due to an adverse interaction between the HIV medication and the corticosteroid.
- Spotlight Case
Joseph O. Jacobson, MD, MSc, and Saul N. Weingart, MD, PhD; May 2013
A cancer patient expecting to be discharged from the hospital after his usual 3-day regimen was surprised to hear that he has 2 more days of chemotherapy. He asked to speak with the oncology team, who discovered that although the right medications were ordered, the wrong duration and dosage were selected on the order set.
Jeffrey L. Hackman, MD; May 2012
Diagnosed with cellulitis, an elderly man was admitted to the hospital after receiving the first dose of vancomycin in the ED. Just 3 hours later, a floor nurse noted the admission order for vancomycin every 12 hours and administered another dose.
- Spotlight Case
John Halamka, MD, MS; December 2011
While entering an order via smartphone to discontinue anticoagulation on a patient, a resident received a text message from a friend and never completed the order. The patient continued to receive warfarin and had spontaneous bleeding into the pericardium that required emergency open heart surgery.
Erika Abramson, MD, MS, and Rainu Kaushal, MD, MPH; September 2011
Antibiotics administration for an elderly man hospitalized for acute infection is delayed by more than 24 hours due to a mix-up and override in the computerized provider order entry system. However, none of the clinicians on the floor questioned the delay.
Debora Simmons, PhD, RN; September 2011
Following surgery, a cancer patient was receiving total parenteral nutrition and lipids through a central venous catheter and pain control through an epidural catheter. A nurse mistakenly connected a new bottle of lipids to the epidural tubing rather than the central line, and the error was not noticed for several hours.
- Spotlight Case
Eric S. Holmboe, MD; February 2011
A man diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C was treated with interferon and ribavirin by his internist without referral for a liver biopsy or the appropriate blood tests. Treatment was continued for months despite the patient developing pancytopenia and continuing to have a high viral load, raising questions about physicians practicing outside their areas of competency.
Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH; Dean F. Sittig, PhD; Maureen Layden, MD, MPH; November 2010
At two different hospitals, patients were instructed to continue home medications, even though their medication lists had errors that could have led to significant adverse consequences.
- Spotlight Case
Jean L. Holley, MD ; October 2010
A man with end-stage renal disease on hemodialysis was dialyzed with equipment that had been inappropriately reused, exposing the patient to another patient's blood numerous times.
- Spotlight Case
Beth Devine, PharmD, MBA, PhD; April 2010
A medication dispensing error causes nausea, sweating, and irregular heartbeat in an elderly man with a history of cardiac arrhythmia. Investigation reveals that the patient was given thyroid replacement medication instead of antiarrhythmic medication.