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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- Communication between Providers 24
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Human Factors Engineering
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- Quality Improvement Strategies 21
- Specialization of Care 3
- Teamwork 7
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- Device-related Complications 7
- Diagnostic Errors 9
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 15
- Failure to rescue 1
- Identification Errors 4
- Interruptions and distractions 1
- Medical Complications 8
- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events 6
- Psychological and Social Complications 3
- Surgical Complications
- Internal Medicine 14
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Health Care Providers
- Nurses 4
- Physicians 15
- Non-Health Care Professionals 18
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.
Jeanna Blitz, MD; November 2018
When patients in two cases did not receive complete preanesthetic evaluation, problems with intubation ensued. In the first case, an anesthesiologist went to evaluate a morbidly obese patient scheduled for hysteroscopy. As the patient was donning her hospital gown behind a closed curtain, he waited but left without performing the preoperative assessment because the morning surgery list was overbooked and he had many other patients to see. Once in the operating room, he discovered on chart review that the woman had a history of gastroesophageal reflux. She could not be intubated, and a supraglottic airway was placed. In the second case, an elderly man with a tumor mass at the base of his tongue was scheduled for a biopsy. On examination, the anesthesiologist could not see much of the mass with the patient's mouth maximally open and tongue sticking out, and he couldn't locate the patient's head and neck CT to further evaluate the mass. The surgeon arrived late and did not communicate with the anesthesiologist about the patient. After inducing general anesthesia, laryngoscopy and intubation proved extremely difficult as the mass obscured the view of the larynx. A second anesthesiologist was called, and together they were able to intubate the patient with a fiberoptic bronchoscope.
- 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.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Shirley C. Paski, MD, MSc, and Jason A. Dominitz, MD, MHS; July 2017
Following an uncomplicated surgery, an older man developed acute colonic pseudo-obstruction refractory to conservative management. During a decompression colonoscopy, the patient's colon was perforated.
- Spotlight Case
Elliott K. Main, MD; November 2016
After an emergency cesarean delivery, a woman had progressive tachycardia and persistent hypertension. A CT scan showed no evidence of pulmonary embolism, but repeat blood tests showed a dangerously low hemoglobin level and markedly elevated liver enzyme levels. She was taken back to the operating room and found to have postpartum hemorrhage.
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.
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.
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.
Krishna Moorthy, MD, MS; January 2015
Following outpatient laparoscopic surgery to repair an inguinal hernia, a man with no significant past medical history had high levels of pain at the surgical site and was admitted to the hospital. With sustained pain on postoperative day 3, the patient developed tachycardia with abdominal distension and a low-grade fever. A CT scan revealed a bowel perforation, which required surgery and a lengthy ICU stay due to septicemia.
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.
James Stotts, RN, MS, CNS, and Audrey Lyndon, PhD, RNC; May 2014
In the preoperative area, a man scheduled for excision of a groin lipoma received regional anesthesia (right iliac block) and was taken to the operating room. There, without alerting anyone, the patient attempted to rise to use the restroom, but—because his leg was numb—fell and hit his head. He reported acute neck pain and was transferred to the local emergency department.
- 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.
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.
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.
Kevin C. Huoh, MD; Kristina W. Rosbe, MD; June 2011
A healthy child underwent tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Extubated after an uneventful surgery, within an hour the child became hypoxic and unable to breathe spontaneously, requiring reintubation.
Edward A. Bittner, MD, PhD; February 2011
Following elective anterior cervical discectomy, a patient developed tightness and swelling in his neck. Later, the patient stood up, turned blue, and fell to the floor unconscious. An obvious neck hematoma was compromising his airway, and the patient required an emergency tracheostomy and CPR.