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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- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 14
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- Spotlight Case
by Kristin E. Sandau, PhD, RN, and Marjorie Funk, PhD, RN; April 2019
An elderly woman with a history of dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, and congestive heart failure (CHF) was brought to the emergency department and found to meet criteria for sepsis. Due to her CHF, she was admitted to a unit with telemetry monitoring, which at this institution was performed remotely. When the nurse came to check the patient's vital signs several hours later, she found the patient to be unresponsive and apneic, with no palpable pulse. A Code Blue was called, but the patient died. Although the telemetry technician had recognized progressive bradycardia and called the hospital floor several minutes before the code, he was placed on hold because the nurse was busy with another patient. While he was holding, he observed worsening bradycardia, eventually transitioning to asystole, and tried to redial the unit, but no one answered.
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
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.
- 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.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Amir A. Ghaferi, MD, MS; August 2017
Admitted to gynecology due to excess bleeding and low hemoglobin after elective surgery, an older woman developed severe pain, nausea, and new-onset atrial fibrillation. She was moved to the telemetry unit where cardiologists treated her, and she had episodes of bloody vomit. Intensivists consulted, but the patient arrested while being transferred to the ICU and died despite maximal efforts.
- 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.
Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc; February 2016
Hospitalized with poorly controlled diabetes, a man had a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) placed for intravenous pain medications, intravenous fluids, and parenteral nutrition. The next day, the patient complained of headache, unilateral vision loss, and left-sided tingling and numbness. Misplacement of the PICC in a left-sided superior vena cava had led to embolic strokes.
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.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Shirley Beng Suat Ooi, MBBS (S'pore); April 2015
A woman admitted to the hospital with a presumed transient ischemic attack and possible gastrointestinal bleeding was found unconscious and in cardiac arrest on hospital day 2. Despite maximal resuscitation efforts, the patient died. Autopsy revealed that the cause of death was an acute aortic dissection.
Matthias Görges, PhD, and J. Mark Ansermino, MBBCh, MSc; September 2014
A man with atrial fibrillation underwent ablation in the catheterization laboratory under general endotracheal anesthesia. The patient was extremely stable during the 7-hour procedure with vital signs hardly changing over time. Inadvertently, the noninvasive blood pressure measurement stopped recording for 1 hour but went unnoticed. After the error was discovered, the case continued without any problems and the patient was discharged home the next day as planned.
Jonathan P. Piccini, MD, MHS; L. Kristin Newby, MD, MHS; and Robert M. Califf, MD; February 2014
A woman with coronary artery disease, diabetes, and hypertension was admitted for a myocardial infarction. Following percutaneous coronary intervention, the patient had several runs of non-sustained ventricular tachycardia (NSVT) and later experienced a cardiac arrest secondary to sustained VT.
Robin R. Hemphill, MD, MPH; September 2013
Admitted to the hospital after hours, a patient with a history of type A aortic dissection had his CT scan read as "no acute changes." However, the CT scan had been compared to a text report of a previous scan, rather than the images. The patient died several hours later, and autopsy revealed the dissection had progressed and ruptured.
- Spotlight Case
Alex A. Balekian, MD, MSHS, and Michael K. Gould, MD, MS; December 2012
At his first visit with a new physician, a man with a "spot" on his lung reported being followed with CT scans every 6–12 months for 8 years. In total, the patient had more than 20 CT scans.
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.