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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- Error Reporting and Analysis 1
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- Device-related Complications 1
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- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 16
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- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Sarah Doernberg, MD, MAS; July 2017
A woman was discharged with instructions to complete an antibiotic course for C. difficile. The same day, the microbiology laboratory notified the patient's nurse that her blood culture grew Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause life-threatening infection. However, the result was not communicated to the medical team prior to discharge.
Mitchell Levy, MD; October 2016
Administered antibiotics in the emergency department and rushed to the operating room for emergent cesarean delivery, a pregnant woman was found to have an infection of the amniotic sac. After delivery, she was transferred to the hospital floor without a continuation order for antibiotics. Within 24 hours, the inpatient team realized she had developed septic shock.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Patricia Juang, MD, and Kristen Kulasa, MD; April 2016
While hospitalized, a man with diabetes had difficult-to-control blood sugars, with multiple episodes of both critical hypoglycemia and serious hyperglycemia. Because "holds" of the patient's insulin were not clearly documented in the electronic health record and blood sugar readings were not uploaded in real time, providers were unaware of how much insulin had actually been given.
Megumi J. Okumura, MD, MAS, and Roberta G. Williams, MD; May 2015
A 21-year-old woman with a history of Marfan syndrome complicated by aortic root dilation presented to the emergency department with abdominal pain and was found to be pregnant. It was her second pregnancy; she had a therapeutic abortion 4 years earlier due to the risk of aortic rupture during pregnancy. At that time, the patient had been advised to have her aortic root surgically repaired in the near future. However, after the patient turned 18, she did not receive regular follow-up care or pre-conception or contraception counseling despite the risk to her health should she become pregnant.
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.
- Spotlight Case
by John G. DeVine, MD; March 2015
A man with suspected renal cell carcinoma seen on CT in the right kidney was transferred to another hospital for surgical management. The imaging was not sent with him, but hospital records, which incorrectly documented the tumor as being on the left side—were. The second hospital did not obtain repeat imaging, and the surgeon did not see the original CT prior to removing the wrong kidney.
John Q. Young, MD, MPP; July 2011
A healthy elderly man presented to his primary care doctor—a third-year internal medicine resident—for routine examination. A PSA test was markedly elevated, but the results came back after the resident had graduated, and the alert went unread. Months later, the patient presented with new onset low back pain and was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.
- 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
Emily S. Patterson, PhD; November 2008
Due to lack of communication during shift change, an infant's transfer to a higher level of care is delayed. The infant develops respiratory distress, prompting a call to the rapid response team and transfer to the ICU.
Nita S. Kulkarni, MD; Mark V. Williams, MD; May 2008
An elderly patient seen in his primary care physician's office was stable but had a suspected heart failure exacerbation. The PCP chose to admit the patient directly to the hospital, to avoid a long emergency department stay. While in the admitting office awaiting an available bed, the patient deteriorated.
Joan M. Teno, MD, MS; April 2008
Despite having a signed DNR (do not resuscitate) form, an elderly man brought to the emergency department with severe pain was rushed to the operating room for urgent abdominal aortic aneurysm repair.
Michael Astion, MD, PhD; June 2004
Just before leaving for the weekend, a physician orders a test for a communicable infection. Although the result arrives and isolation signs are placed on the patient's door, none of the covering physicians are notified, and the float nurses mistakenly assume the patient is already receiving treatment.
Arpana Vidyarthi, MD; March 2004
Due to a series of incomplete signouts, information about a patient's post-operative leg pain and chest discomfort is not conveyed to the primary team. A PE is discovered post-mortem.