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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Lina Bergman, RN, MSc, and Wendy Chaboyer, RN, PhD; February 2019
Following surgery under general anesthesia, a boy was extubated and brought to postanesthesia care unit (PACU). Due to the patient's age and length of the surgery, the PACU anesthesiologist ordered continuous pulse-oximetry monitoring for 24 hours. Deemed stable to leave the PACU, the boy was transported to the regular floor. When the nurse went to place the patient on pulse oximetry, she realized he was markedly hypoxic. She administered oxygen by face mask, but he became bradycardic and hypotensive and a code blue was called.
Ken Catchpole, PhD; August 2017
Because the plan to biopsy a large gastric mass concerning for malignancy was not conveyed to the hospitalist caring for the patient, she was not made NPO, nor was her anticoagulant medication stopped. The nurse anesthetist performing the preanesthesia checklist noted she received her anticoagulation that morning but did not notify the gastroenterologist. The patient had postprocedural bleeding.
Kiran Gupta, MD, MPH, and Raman Khanna, MD; July/August 2016
A woman with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease underwent hip surgery and experienced shortness of breath postoperatively. A chest radiograph showed a pneumothorax, but the radiologist was unable to locate the first call physician to page about this critical finding.
Jeanne M. Farnan, MD, MHPE; April 2016
A man with a pulmonary embolus was ordered argatroban for anticoagulation. The next day, an intern noticed that the patient in the next room, a woman with a GI bleed, had argatroban hanging on her IV pole, but the label showed the name of the man with the pulmonary embolus. The nurse was notified, the medication was stopped, and the error was disclosed to the patient.
- Spotlight Case
Tara Kirkpatrick, MD, and Chad LaGrange, MD; February 2016
Despite mechanical problems with the robotic arms during a robotic-assisted prostatectomy, the surgeon continued using the technology and completed the operation. Following the procedure, the patient developed serious bleeding requiring multiple blood transfusions, several additional surgeries, and a prolonged hospital stay.
Sonya P. Mehta, MD, MHS, and Karen B. Domino, MD, MPH; April 2015
During laparoscopic subtotal colon resection for adenocarcinoma, a patient's bladder was accidentally lacerated and surgeons repaired it without difficulty. As nurses set up bladder irrigation equipment, no one noticed the bag of solution was dripping into the power supply of an anesthesiology monitor. Suddenly sparks and flames began shooting from the monitor, and the OR filled with black smoke. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished quickly and neither the patient nor any OR staff was injured.
John H. Eichhorn, MD; January 2015
While undergoing an elective coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) and ablation, an elderly man had a pulmonary artery catheter (PAC) placed to monitor his hemodynamic status. During the operation, the team was informed that another patient needed an emergency CABG. In the rush to attend to the second patient, the PAC in the first was left inflated for a prolonged period, which could have led to a catastrophic complication.
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
Nicholas Symons, MBChB, MSc; July-August 2013
An elderly woman with severe abdominal pain was admitted for an emergency laparotomy for presumed small bowel obstruction. Shortly after induction of anesthesia, her heart stopped. She was resuscitated and transferred to the intensive care unit, where she died the next morning. The review committee felt this case represented a diagnostic error, which led to unnecessary surgery and a preventable death.
Kirsten Engel, MD; July-August 2013
After changing the type of knee repair being done mid-procedure, a surgeon verbally informed the patient of drastically different discharge instructions in the post-anesthesia care unit but did not provide specific written instructions of the changed procedure or recovery plan to her or her husband.
Ashish C. Sinha, MD, PhD; July-August 2013
Following general anesthesia for hip repair surgery, an elderly woman with a history of hypertension and obesity developed hypercarbic respiratory failure and was reintubated in the recovery unit. Providers felt the patient had undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea and questioned whether obese patients undergoing anesthesia should receive formal preoperative screening for it.
Roy Ilan, MD, MSc; May 2013
A woman was emergently admitted for surgery for acute appendicitis. Although the patient had a chest port for breast cancer chemotherapy, the surgeon demanded that a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) be placed. The patient developed blood clots from the PICC, and surgery was cancelled. Significant complications, including perforation, peritonitis, and prolonged hospitalization, arose from managing the appendicitis conservatively.
Allan Goldman, MB, and Ken Catchpole, PhD; September 2012
Prior to surgery, failure to transmit information about a man whose blood glucose level fell precipitously after receiving insulin, combined with the fact that the electronic health record (EHR) had not been updated with current glucose levels, led to another dangerous drop in the patient's glucose level.
Robert R. Cima, MD, MA; September 2012
Following successful bypass surgery and mitral valve repair, an elderly man with diabetes, hypertension, and end-stage renal disease continued to attend hemodialysis and other clinic visits regularly. Eight months later, he was admitted to the hospital with shaking chills, confusion, and a collection of pus in his chest. A surgical procedure to free the trapped lung also uncovered a surgical instrument from the previous surgery.
Matt M. Kurrek, MD, and Rebecca S. Twersky, MD, MPH; August 2012
Following spinal anesthesia for an outpatient procedure, a patient is discharged and instructed to take sitz baths with tepid water. The patient misunderstood the instructions, using scalding water instead, and residual anesthesia blunted his response to the hot water.
- Spotlight Case
Isla M. Hains, PhD; June 2012
An elderly woman was transferred to a tertiary hospital for surgical repair of hip fracture, without complete information or records. The receiving surgeons were not informed that she had a cardiac arrest during induction of anesthesia at the community hospital. Surgery proceeded, but the patient died a few days later.
Hugo Q. Cheng, MD; June 2012
Following surgery for hip fracture, an elderly man with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease developed worsening shortness of breath. At this hospital, the orthopedic surgery service has hospitalists comanage its patients. Inadequate communication between the services led to a delay in diagnosing the patient with pneumonia and initiating treatment.
Marta L. Render, MD; May 2012
After placing a central line in an elderly patient following a heart attack, a community hospital transferred him to a referral hospital for stenting of his coronary arteries. He was discharged to an assisted living facility 2 days later, with the central line still in place.
John Starling III, MD; March 2012
Following biopsies for two skin lesions on his left cheek, a patient was sent to an outside surgeon for excision of squamous cell carcinoma. Although the referral included a description and diagram, the wrong lesion was removed.
Jim Fackler, MD, and Jamie M. Schwartz, MD; October 2011
Residents and nurses assumed an ICU attending was conveying information to the surgeon and cardiologist about a toddler's deteriorating condition after heart surgery. However, none of the providers had a complete picture of the child's status, and he suffered a cardiac arrest.