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
- Education and Training 5
- Error Reporting and Analysis 3
- Human Factors Engineering 5
- Legal and Policy Approaches 2
- Logistical Approaches 1
- Quality Improvement Strategies 7
- Specialization of Care 4
- Teamwork 1
- Clinical Information Systems 10
- Alert fatigue 1
- Device-related Complications 4
- Diagnostic Errors 2
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 7
- Interruptions and distractions 1
- Medical Complications 1
- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events 11
- Nonsurgical Procedural Complications 1
- Internal Medicine
- Nursing 2
- Pharmacy 4
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.
Ian Solsky, MD, and Alex B. Haynes, MD, MPH; December 2017
Prior to performing a bilateral femoral artery embolectomy on a man with coronary artery disease and diabetes, the team used a surgical safety checklist for a preoperative briefing. Although the surgeon told the anesthesiologist the patient would benefit from epidural analgesia continued into the perioperative period, he failed to mention the patient would be therapeutically anticoagulated for several days postoperatively. No postoperative debriefing was conducted. The anesthesiologist continued orders for epidural analgesia and the epidural catheter remained in place, putting the patient at risk of bleeding.
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.
Nancy Staggers, PhD, RN; October 2017
Hospitalized with sepsis secondary to an infected IV line through which she was receiving treprostnil (a high-alert medication used to treat pulmonary hypertension), a woman was transferred to interventional radiology for placement of a new permanent catheter once the infection cleared. Sign-off between departments included a warning not to flush the line since it would lead to a dangerous overdose. However, while attempting to identify an infusion pump alarm, a radiology technician accidentally flushed the line, which led to a near code situation.
- 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.
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.
Jerod Nagel, PharmD, and Eric Nguyen; October 2015
A woman who had recently had her left lung removed for aspergilloma presented to the outpatient clinic with pain, redness, and pus draining from her sternotomy site. She was admitted for surgical debridement and prescribed IV liposomal amphotericin B for aspergillus. Hours into the IV infusion, the patient developed nausea, vomiting, sweating, and shivering, and it was discovered that she had been given conventional amphotericin B at the dose intended for the liposomal formulation, representing a 5-fold overdose.
Steven R. Kayser, PharmD; September 2015
Following a myocardial infarction, an elderly man underwent percutaneous coronary intervention and had two drug-eluting stents placed. He was given triple anticoagulation therapy for 6 months, with a plan to continue dual anticoagulation therapy for another 6 months. Although the primary care provider saw the patient periodically over the next few years, the medications were not reconciled and the patient remained on the dual therapy for 3 years.
- 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.
- Spotlight Case
Joseph I. Boullata, PharmD, RPh, BCNSP; April 2013
A 3-year-old boy hospitalized with anemia who was on chronic total parenteral nutrition was given an admixture with a level of sodium 10-fold higher than intended. Despite numerous warnings and checks along the way, the error still reached the patient.
Elinore F. McCance-Katz, MD, PhD; October 2012
A man with a long history of opioid dependence (and smoking) went to a substance abuse program for detoxification. The patient received buprenorphine/naloxone and was found unresponsive and cyanotic a few hours later. He was diagnosed with opiate-induced respiratory distress complicated by pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Sara N. Davison, MD, MHSc; June 2012
A woman with end-stage renal disease, who often skipped dialysis sessions, was admitted to the hospital with fever and given intravenous opiates for pain. Because her permanent arteriovenous graft was clotted, she had been receiving dialysis via a temporary femoral catheter, increasing her risk for infection. Blood cultures grew yeast; the patient was diagnosed with fungal endocarditis, likely caused by injections of opiates through her catheter.
- Spotlight Case
Margaret Fang, MD, MPH; Raman Khanna, MD, MAS; July 2011
Following hospitalization for community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man with a history of dementia, falls, and atrial fibrillation is discharged on antibiotics but no changes to his anticoagulation medication. One week later, the patient’s INR was dangerously high.
Andrew S. Dunn, MD; April 2010
An elderly woman with a history of mitral valve replacement with a mechanical prosthesis was admitted to the hospital for evaluation of abdominal pain. Although an order was written to stop her blood thinner and restart it 48 hours after the procedure, the medication was not restarted.
William W. Churchill, MS, RPh; Karen Fiumara, PharmD; April 2009
A powerful anti-clotting medication is ordered for a patient admitted for coronary intervention. Due to a forcing function in the computer order entry system, the intern enters an arbitrary maintenance infusion rate, assuming that the pharmacy will fix it if it is wrong. The pharmacy dispenses it as written, and the nurse administers it—underdosing the patient by a factor of 40.
Curtiss B. Cook, MD; January 2009
Admitted to the hospital for surgery, a man with type 1 diabetes mellitus asked the staff to leave his home insulin pump in place but did not mention that he was adjusting his insulin pump himself based on serial glucose measurements. As the patient was also receiving an intravenous insulin infusion, he developed hypoglycemia.
Lydia C. Siegel, MD; Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH; January 2009
Four months after surgery, a woman with osteosarcoma receiving outpatient chemotherapy was admitted for possible cellulitis. Discharged home on methotrexate and antibiotics, the patient developed methotrexate toxicity, partly due to a drug interaction.
- Spotlight Case
Adam J. Gordon, MD, MPH; July 2008
A man with a history of heroin use came to the hospital with abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Admitted for dehydration and opiate withdrawal, he was given intravenous fluids, methadone, and morphine for abdominal pain. The patient complained of worsening pain overnight and was given more methadone. In the morning, the patient had more severe pain and tachycardia, and was found to have a perforated colon.
Steven R. Kayser, PharmD; February 2007
A woman admitted to the hospital for cardiac transplantation evaluation is mistakenly given warfarin despite an order to hold the dose due to an increase in her INR level.
Tess Pape, PhD, RN, CNOR; February 2006
Bypassing the safeguards of an automated dispensing machine in a skilled nursing facility, a nurse administers medications from a portable medication cart. A non-diabetic patient receives insulin by mistake, which requires his admission to intensive care and delays his chemotherapy for cancer.