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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Michael J. Barrington, MBBS, PhD, and Yoshiaki Uda, MBBS; April 2017
An older woman admitted to the medical-surgical ward with multiple right-sided rib fractures received a paravertebral block to control the pain. After the procedure, the anesthesiologist realized that the block had been placed on the wrong side. The patient required an additional paravertebral block on the correct side, which increased her risk of complications and exposed her to additional medication.
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.
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.
Robert A. Green, MD, MPH, and Jason Adelman, MD, MS; January 2016
Presenting to his new primary physician's office for his first visit, a man was checked in under the record of an existing patient with the exact same name and age. The mistake wasn't noticed until the established patient received the new patient's test results by email.
- Spotlight Case
John D. Halamka, MD, MS, and Deven McGraw, JD, MPH, LLM; July/August 2015
A hospitalized patient with advanced dementia was to undergo a brain MRI as part of a diagnostic workup for altered mental status. Hospital policy dictated that signout documentation include only patients' initials rather than more identifiable information such as full name or birth date. In this case, the patient requiring the brain MRI had the same initials as another patient on the same unit with severe cognitive impairment from a traumatic brain injury. The cross-covering resident mixed up the two patients and placed the MRI order in the wrong chart. Because the order for a "brain MRI to evaluate worsening cognitive function" could apply to either patient, neither the bedside nurse nor radiologist noticed the error.
- 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.
Jason S. Adelman, MD, MS; October 2013
After a hospitalized patient died, the intern went to fill out the death certificate and notify the family. However, he picked up the chart of a different patient and mistakenly notified another patient's wife that her husband had died. He soon realized he'd notified the wrong family.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Abigail Zuger, MD; June 2011
An adolescent girl passed out after a soccer game, and her father, a physician, took her to the pediatrician for tests. The physician father obtained a copy of his daughter’s ECG, panicked because it was not normal, and began guiding his daughter’s medical care.
Kerm Henriksen, PhD; Kendall K. Hall, MD, MS; June 2011
Admitted to the hospital with community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man nearly receives dangerous potassium supplementation due to a “critical panic value” call for a low potassium in another patient.
Dorothy Dougherty, RN; November 2010
A hospitalized 2-month-old infant is fed breast milk from another infant's mother after the wrong bottle is pulled from the ward's refrigerator.
Ross Koppel, PhD; April 2009
A patient hospitalized with Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia and advanced AIDS is given another patient's malignant biopsy results, leading his primary physician to mistakenly recommend hospice care.
Leslie W. Hall, MD; October 2008
Orthopedic surgeons rounding on an elderly Cantonese-speaking woman recommend conservative, nonsurgical treatment for her broken hip, as their examination noted that the patient was able to walk. Given that strict bed rest orders were in place for this patient, a medical intern found the note peculiar. Further investigation revealed that the surgeons had actually walked the patient's roommate, another Cantonese-speaking woman.
Richard A. Smith, DDS; July-August 2007
A patient underwent tooth extraction, but awoke from anesthesia and found that the wrong two teeth had been removed.
Michael Astion, MD, PhD ; December 2006
A man admitted to the hospital for elective surgery has blood drawn. Despite a policy for proper identification, the blood samples were all mislabeled with another patient's name. The error was discovered at the lab, and there was no harm to the patient.
- Spotlight Case
Elizabeth A. Howell, MD, MPP; Mark R. Chassin, MD, MPP, MPH; May 2006
A woman with a fractured right foot receives spinal anesthesia and nearly has surgery for trimalleolar fracture and dislocation of the left ankle. Only immediately prior to surgery did the team realize that the x-ray was not hers.
Dennis S. O'Leary, MD; William E. Jacott, MD; December 2004
Despite a "time out" and having his leg marked by the surgeon, a patient comes perilously close to having surgery on the wrong leg.
Neil A. Holtzman, MD, MPH; December 2004
A pregnant woman is offered genetic testing for herself and her husband. Although he declines, the next time he undergoes routine testing, the phlebotomist overrides the consent in the computerized record and runs the test anyway.
Peter Lindenauer, MD, MSc; October 2004
A surgical patient and a neurosurgical patient are scheduled to be moved to different beds, the second taking the first's spot. However, the move is documented electronically before it occurs physically, and a medication error nearly ensues.
Mark V. Williams, MD; July 2004
A man sent for a Holter monitor inadvertently arrives at the allergy clinic and receives a skin test instead.