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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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
Ifedayo Kuye, MD, MBA, and Chanu Rhee, MD, MPH; October 2018
Admitted with generalized weakness, nausea, and low blood pressure, an elderly man was given IV fluids and broad spectrum antibiotics. Laboratory test results revealed a mildly elevated white count, acute kidney injury, and elevated liver function tests. The patient was admitted to the medical ICU with a presumed diagnosis of septic shock. His blood pressure continued to trend downward. While reviewing the emergency department test results, the ICU resident noticed the patient's troponin level was markedly elevated and his initial ECG revealed T-wave inversions. A repeat ECG in the ICU showed obvious ST segment elevations, diagnostic of an acute myocardial infarction. The resident realized that the patient's low blood pressure was likely due to the myocardial infarction, not septic shock. He underwent urgent cardiac catheterization and was found to have complete occlusion of the right coronary artery, for which a stent was placed.
Steven Plogsted, PharmD; October 2018
A 1-month-old preterm infant in the NICU receiving the standard 500 mL bag of 0.45% sodium chloride (NaCl) with heparin at low rates developed hyponatremia. Clinicians recognized the need to deliver a more concentrated sodium solution and ordered that the IV fluid be changed to a 500 mL bag of 0.9% NaCl with heparin. However, due to a natural disaster affecting the supply chain for IV fluids, 0.9% NaCl 500 mL bags were in short supply, and the order was modified to use 100 mL 0.9% NaCl bags, which were available. Since the total volume was much smaller, a lower concentration formulation of heparin was required. However, the verifying pharmacist discovered that an 10-fold higher concentration had been used to compound the fluids, and further investigation revealed this same error had occurred on five other occasions.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Jennifer Merrilees, RN, PhD, and Kirby Lee, PharmD, MA, MAS; May 2016
An elderly man with early dementia fractured his leg and was admitted to a skilled nursing facility for physical therapy. On his third day there, he became delirious and agitated and was taken to the emergency department and hospitalized. A few days later, doctors involuntarily committed him and administered risperidone, which worsened his delirium.
Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc; February 2016
Hospitalized with poorly controlled diabetes, a man had a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) placed for intravenous pain medications, intravenous fluids, and parenteral nutrition. The next day, the patient complained of headache, unilateral vision loss, and left-sided tingling and numbness. Misplacement of the PICC in a left-sided superior vena cava had led to embolic strokes.
- Spotlight Case
Kevin M. Barrett, MD, MSc; December 2014
An elderly man admitted for a presumed hypertensive emergency and undiagnosed neurologic symptoms became unresponsive and was noted to have new right hand weakness 2 days into his hospitalization. After a "Code Stroke" was called, a neurologist evaluated him and administered tPA 100 minutes after the acute event. A few hours later, the patient developed further symptoms, and an emergent head CT demonstrated post-tPA intracerebral hemorrhage.
- Spotlight Case
Shoshana J. Herzig, MD, MPH; September 2014
Hospitalized for foot amputation, a man with COPD and chronic pain on long-acting morphine experienced post-operative pain and severe muscle spasms. After being given hydromorphone, morphine, and diazepam, the patient became minimally responsive and a code blue was called.
Delphine Tuot, MDCM, MAS; September 2014
A patient with ALS was hospitalized with presumed pneumonia and sepsis. Although he was treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics and fluid resuscitation, additional potassium was administered due to his potassium level remaining low. The patient went into cardiac arrest and resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.
- Spotlight Case
Terence Goh, MBBS, and Lee Gan Goh, MBBS; July-August 2014
Admitted with bruising from a fall and persistent pain on his left side, a patient was kept in the emergency department overnight due to crowding. After being reevaluated by the surgical service the next day, the patient was urgently taken to the operating room for probable necrotizing fasciitis and pyomysitis.
Don C. Rockey, MD; July-August 2014
Presenting with jaundice and epigastric pain, a woman with a history of multiple malignancies was admitted directly for an ultrasound-guided liver biopsy. After the procedure, the patient had low blood pressure and complained of new abdominal pain, which worsened over the next 2 hours. The bedside nurse soon found the patient unresponsive.
Raymond L. Fowler, MD, and Melanie J. Lippmann, MD; July-August 2014
During a code blue, an intraosseous line was placed in the left tibia of an elderly woman after several unsuccessful attempts to obtain peripheral venous access. Following chest compressions and advanced cardiovascular life support protocol, spontaneous circulation returned and the patient was transferred to the intensive care unit. A few hours later, the left leg was dusky purple with sluggish distal pulses.
Michelle Feil, MSN, RN; June 2014
Following removal of a central venous catheter placed during his admission for a prolonged course of intravenous antibiotics, a young man with a history of Behçet disease was discharged from the hospital. Shortly thereafter, he presented to the emergency department with acute onset shortness of breath and a "whistling sound" coming from his neck. Diagnosed with air embolism, he was admitted to the ICU.
- Spotlight Case
John Betjemann, MD, and S. Andrew Josephson, MD; April 2014
Despite new back pain and worsening symptoms of tingling, pain, and weakness bilaterally, in both hands and feet, a man recently diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy was not sent for further testing after repeated visits to a primary care clinic. By the time neurologists saw him, they diagnosed critical cervical cord compression, which placed the patient at risk for permanent paralysis.
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.
Thomas B. Newman, MD, MPH, and M. Jeffrey Maisels, MB, BCh, DSc; March 2014
Following delivery and successful phototherapy for hyperbilirubinemia, an infant developed anemia over the next few weeks. Found to have Rh hemolytic disease, the infant was admitted to the hospital for blood transfusion and close monitoring.