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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Brian Clay, MD; January 2019
Following urgent catheter-directed thrombolysis to relieve acute limb ischemia caused by thrombosis of her left superficial femoral artery, an elderly woman was admitted to the ICU. While ordering a heparin drip, the resident was unaware that the EHR order set had undergone significant changes and inadvertently ordered too low a heparin dose. Although the pharmacist and bedside nurse noticed the low dose, they assumed the resident selected the dose purposefully. Because the patient was inadequately anticoagulated, she developed extensive thrombosis associated with the catheter and sheath site, requiring surgical intervention for critical limb ischemia (including amputation of the contralateral leg above the knee).
Elise Orvedal Leiten, MD, and Rune Nielsen, MD, PhD; January 2019
Hospitalized in the ICU with hypoxic respiratory failure due to community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man had increased pulmonary secretions on hospital day 2 for which the critical care provider decided to perform bedside bronchoscopy. Following the procedure, the patient was difficult to arouse, nearly apneic, and required intubation. The care team paused and discovered that after the patient had received 2 mg of intravenous midalozam, his IV line had been flushed with an additional 10 mg of the benzodiazepine, rather than the intended normal saline. This high dose of midazolam led to the respiratory failure requiring intubation. On top of that, instead of normal saline, lidocaine had been used for the lung lavage.
Jason Bergsbaken, PharmD; September 2018
A woman with cancer was admitted to begin a chemotherapy cycle of IV etoposide (daily for 3 days) and IV cisplatin (single dose). At the hospital's cancer center satellite pharmacy, the pharmacist entered the order into the computer and prepared the first dose of the medications. While transcribing the order, the pharmacist inadvertently switched the duration of therapy for the two agents. The transposition did not affect the patient's first day of therapy. The second day fell on a Saturday, when the satellite pharmacy was closed; a different pharmacist who did not have access to the original chemotherapy order prepared the therapy order. Cisplatin was labeled, dispensed, and reached the bedside. The nurse bypassed the double-check policy for verifying the order prior to administration, and the patient received the second dose of cisplatin instead of the intended dose of etoposide.
Helen Pervanas, PharmD, RPh, and David VanValkenburgh; August 2018
Admitted to different hospitals multiple times for severe hypoglycemia, an older man underwent an extensive workup that did not identify a corresponding diagnosis. During his third hospitalization in 6 weeks, once his glucose level normalized, the care team believed the patient was ready for discharge, but the consulting endocrinologist asked the family to bring in all the patients' medication bottles. The family returned with 12 different medications, none of which were labeled as an oral hypoglycemic agent. The resident used the codes on the tablets to identify them and discovered that one of the medications, labeled an antihypertensive, actually contained oral hypoglycemic pills. As the patient had no history of diabetes, this likely represented a pharmacy filling error.
Joseph L. Schindler, MD; June 2018
Brought to the emergency department after being found unresponsive, an older man was given systemic thrombolytics to treat a suspected stroke. After administering the medication, the nurse noticed patches on the patient's back. The patient's wife explained that the patches, which contained fentanyl and whose doses had recently been increased, were for chronic back pain. In fact, the wife had placed two patches that morning. Medication reconciliation revealed that the patient had inadvertently received 3 times his previous dose. He was administered naloxone to treat the opioid overdose. Although he became more responsive, he had a generalized seizure and a CT showed intracranial hemorrhage—an adverse consequence of the thrombolytics.
Valentina Jelincic, RPh, and Julie Greenall, RPh, MHSc; February 2018
A hospitalized pediatric burn patient underwent dressing changes and burn inspection every third day. On those days she received oxycodone for pain, which allowed her to tolerate the painful procedures and to rest. After a dressing change one day, the mother noticed the child's breathing was shallow. That day the patient had received three doses of oxycodone, but because the automated dispensing machine had been stocked incorrectly with a higher concentration of oxycodone solution stored in the location normally reserved for the lower concention, she received nearly five times the dose ordered.
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.
F. Ralph Berberich, MD; August 2017
A 2-month-old boy brought in for a well-child visit was ordered the appropriate vaccinations, which included a combination vaccine for DTaP, Hib, and IPV. After administering the shots to the patient, the nurse realized she had given the DTaP vaccination alone, instead of the combination vaccine. Thus, the infant had to receive two additional injections.
- 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.
Scott D. Nelson, PharmD, MS; March 2017
Although meningitis and neurosyphilis were ruled out for a woman presenting with a headache and blurry vision, blood tests returned indicating latent (inactive) syphilis. Due to a history of penicillin allergy, the patient was sent for testing for penicillin sensitivity, which was negative. The allergist placed orders for neurosyphilis treatment—a far higher penicillin dose than needed to treat latent syphilis, and a treatment regimen that would have required hospitalization. Upon review, the pharmacist saw that neurosyphilis had been ruled out, contacted the allergist, and the treatment plan was corrected.
Jeffrey J. Mucksavage, PharmD, and Eljim P. Tesoro, PharmD; January 2017
An emergency department physician ordered a loading dose of IV phenytoin for a woman with a history of seizures and cardiac arrest. However, he failed to order that the loading dose be switched back to an appropriate (and lower) maintenance dose, and 3 days later the patient developed somnolence, severe ataxia, and dysarthria. Her serum phenytoin level was 3 times the maximum therapeutic level.
Osama Loubani, MD; January 2017
A man with a history of cardiac disease was brought to the emergency department for septic shock of possible intra-abdominal origin. A vasopressor was ordered. However, rather than delivering it through a central line, the norepinephrine was infused through a peripheral line. The medication extravasated into the subcutaneous tissue of the patient's arm. Despite attempts to salvage the patient's wrist and fingers, three of his fingertips had to be amputated.
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.
Chris Vincent, PhD; December 2016
Admitted to the hospital for treatment of a hip fracture, an elderly woman with end-stage dementia was placed on the hospice service for comfort care. The physician ordered a morphine drip for better pain control. The nurse placed the normal saline, but not the morphine drip, on a pump. Due to the mistaken setup, the morphine flowed into the patient at uncontrolled rate.
John D. McGreevey III, MD; November 2016
A transition from paper orders to CPOE left out an important safety reminder, resulting in mismanagement of an elderly patient's low potassium and magnesium levels. This led to a fatal arrhythmia. The paper-based electrolyte order set had provided a reminder that magnesium replacement should accompany potassium replacement; however, in the computerized system, a separate order set was necessary for each electrolyte.
Jennifer Morris and Marie Bismark, MD; September 2016
Assuming its dosing was similar to morphine, a physician ordered 4 mg of IV hydromorphone for a hospitalized woman with pain from acute pancreatitis. As 1 mg of IV hydromorphone is equivalent to 4 mg of morphine, this represented a large overdose. The patient was soon found unresponsive and apneic—requiring ICU admission, a naloxone infusion overnight, and intubation. While investigating the error, the hospital found other complaints against that particular physician.
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.
Julia Adler-Milstein, PhD; July/August 2016
Because the hospital and the ambulatory clinic used separate electronic health records on different technology platforms, information on a new outpatient oxycodone prescription for a patient scheduled for total knee replacement was not available to the surgical team. The anesthesiologist placed an epidural catheter to administer morphine, and postoperatively the patient required naloxone and intubation.
Christine M. Gillis, PharmD; Jeremy R. Degrado, PharmD; and Kevin E. Anger, PharmD; February 2016
Presenting with a cough and shortness of breath, a woman with end-stage renal disease was admitted to the medical floor after undergoing hemodialysis. She was given allergy and sleep medications at her home dosages. The next morning the patient was extremely drowsy and unresponsive to painful stimuli. A "Code Stroke" was called.
Howard I. Maibach, MD; January 2016
An attending physician recommended using acetic acid to evaluate a lesion on the perineum of a woman who had previously experienced a wart in the same area. The resident physician asked the medical assistant for acetic acid and unknowingly received trichloroacetic acid, which burned the patient's skin.