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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- 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.
Stephanie Rogers, MD, and Derek Ward, MD; April 2019
An elderly man with a complicated medical history slipped on a rug at home, fell, and injured his hip. Emergency department evaluation and imaging revealed no head injury and a left intertrochanteric hip fracture. Although he was admitted to the orthopedic surgery service, with surgery to fix the fracture initially scheduled for the next day, the operation was delayed by 3 days due to several emergent trauma cases and lack of surgeon availability. He ultimately underwent surgery and was discharged a few days later but was readmitted several weeks later with chest pain and shortness of breath. He was found to have a pulmonary embolism; anticoagulation was initiated. The patient's rehabilitation was delayed, his recovery was prolonged, and he never returned to his baseline functional status.
Rommel Sagana, MD, and Robert C. Hyzy, MD; March 2019
Following an elective carotid endarterectomy, an elderly woman was extubated in the operating room (OR) and brought to the recovery area. She soon developed respiratory distress necessitating urgent reintubation, which required multiple attempts. She was found to have an expanding neck hematoma, which was drained safely in the OR. Later that day after a half hour weaning trial, the respiratory therapist extubated the patient without checking for a cuff leak. Within 15 minutes, she developed acute shortness of breath and stridor, which rapidly progressed to hypoxemic respiratory failure. Urgent reintubation was difficult because her vocal cords were edematous.
- Spotlight Case
Stephanie Mueller, MD, MPH; February 2019
To transfer a man with possible sepsis to a hospital with subspecialty and critical care, a physician was unaware of a formal protocol and called a colleague at the academic medical center. The colleague secured a bed, and the patient was sent over. However, neither clinical data nor the details of the patient's current condition were transmitted to the hospital's transfer center, and the receiving physician booked a general ward bed rather than an ICU bed. When the patient arrived, his mentation was altered and breathing was rapid. The nurse called the rapid response team, but the patient went into cardiac arrest.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Timothy R. Kreider, MD, PhD, and John Q. Young, MD, MPP, PhD; January 2019
A woman with a history of psychiatric illness presented to the emergency department with agitation, hallucinations, tachycardia, and transient hypoxia. The consulting psychiatric resident attributed the tachycardia and hypoxia to her underlying agitation and admitted her to an inpatient psychiatric facility. Over the next few days, her tachycardia persisted and continued to be attributed to her psychiatric disease. On hospital day 5, the patient was found unresponsive and febrile, with worsening tachycardia, tachypnea, and hypoxia; she had diffuse myoclonus and increased muscle tone. She was transferred to the ICU of the hospital, where a chest CT scan revealed bilateral pulmonary emboli (explaining the tachycardia and hypoxia), and clinicians also diagnosed neuroleptic malignant syndrome (a rare and life-threatening reaction to some psychiatric medications).
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.
Varalakshmi Janamanchi, MD; Kunjam Modha, MD; and Christopher Whinney, MD; December 2017
At a preoperative evaluation for skin grafting surgery, a man's prescription medications were reviewed and updated in his medical record. During surgery, the patient experienced profuse bleeding, requiring transfusion with multiple units of blood. Postoperatively, the patient stabilized and the attending surgeon reexamined the patient's medications with him and asked about over-the-counter medications. The patient had been taking one aspirin per day, including the day of surgery. Although the patient was asked about blood-thinning medications at the preoperative visit, he was not asked about over-the-counter medications.
Vinod K. Bhutani, MD, and Ronald J. Wong; October 2017
A newborn with elevated total serum bilirubin (TSB) due to hemolytic disease was placed on a mattress with embedded phototherapy lights for treatment, but the TSB continued to climb. The patient was transferred to the neonatal ICU for an exchange transfusion. The neonatologist requested testing of the phototherapy lights, and their irradiance level was found to be well below the recommended level. The lights were replaced, the patient's TSB level began to drop, and the exchange transfusion was aborted.
- Spotlight Case
Amy Vogelsmeier, PhD, RN, and Laurel Despins, PhD, RN; January 2016
Admitted to the hospital for chemotherapy, a man with leukemia and diabetes arrived on the medical unit on a busy afternoon and waited until his room was ready. The nurse who checked him in assumed that his admitting orders were completed on the previous shift. That night, the patient took his own insulin from home without a meal and experienced a preventable episode of hypoglycemia.
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.
Ayse P. Gurses, PhD, and Peter Doyle, PhD; December 2014
An elderly man was being prepared for discharge after being hospitalized for an exacerbation of congestive heart failure. His nurse failed to notice that the tubing of the patient's sequential compression devices (in place to prevent DVT) was caught on the bed wheel and had unlocked the bed when she raised it. When the patient attempted to get up later, the bed rolled out from under him and he fell, breaking his hip. One week after surgery, the patient experienced a cardiac arrest from a massive pulmonary embolism and died.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Janice L. Kwan, MD; May 2014
An elderly woman with a history of dementia underwent surgical resection of new colon cancer, which relieved a bowel obstruction. She developed acute delirium postoperatively, and the team discovered they had neglected to capture her cholinesterase inhibitor patch (a medication for dementia) in the official medication reconciliation list.
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.
Celina Garza Mankey, MD, and Prathibha Varkey, MD, MPH, MBA; May 2014
An elderly man on warfarin and aspirin for chronic atrial fibrillation and previous cerebrovascular accident presented to the emergency department with a severe headache. Found to have bilateral subdural hematomas and a supratherapeutic INR (4.9), he was admitted to the ICU. Even though the patient was discharged with his warfarin discontinued permanently, the outpatient pharmacy kept it on the active medication list and refilled his mail order prescription automatically, leading again to an elevated INR.
Paul C. Walker, PharmD, and Jerod Nagel, PharmD; April 2014
Following a hospitalization for Clostridium Difficile–associated diarrhea, a woman with HIV/AIDS and B-cell lymphoma was discharged with a prescription for a 14-day course of oral vancomycin solution. At her regular retail pharmacy, she was unable to obtain the medicine, and while awaiting coverage approval, she received no treatment. Her symptoms soon returned, prompting an emergency department visit where she was diagnosed with toxic megacolon.
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.
William Ventres, MD, MA; March 2014
A teenager presented to an urgent care clinic with new bumps and white spots near her tongue. Although she was diagnosed with herpetic gingivostomatitis, the after-visit summary incorrectly populated the diagnosis of "thrush" from the triage information, which was not updated with the correct diagnosis. The mistake on the printout caused confusion for the patient's mother and necessitated several follow-up communications to clear up.
- Spotlight Case
Annie Yang, PharmD, BCPS; February 2014
Despite multiple checks by physician, pharmacist, and nurse during the medication ordering, dispensing, and administration processes, a patient received a 10-fold overdose of an opioid medication and a code blue was called.