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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- Error Analysis
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- Patients 1
Deborah Debono, PhD, RN, and Tracy Levett-Jones, PhD, RN; July 2018
A young adult with a progressive neurological disorder presented to an emergency department from a nursing home with a dislodged GJ tube. As a workaround to maintain patency when the GJ tube was dislodged, nursing home staff had inserted a Foley catheter into the ostomy, inflated the Foley bulb in the stomach, and tied the distal portion of the catheter in a loose knot. When the patient went to interventional radiology for new GJ tube placement, clinicians found no Foley but inserted a new GJ tube. Discharged to the nursing home, the patient was readmitted 2 days later with fever and increasing abdominal distention. An abdominal CT scan showed an obstructing foreign body in the small bowel.
Mohammad Farhad Peerally, MBChB, MRCP, and Mary Dixon-Woods, DPhil; May 2018
For a man with end-stage renal disease, a transplanted kidney was connected successfully. As the surgery was nearing completion, the surgeon instructed the anesthesiologist to give 3000 units of heparin. When preparing to close the incision, the clinicians noticed severe bleeding. The patient's blood pressure dropped, and transfusions were administered while they tried to stop the bleeding. The anesthesiologist mistakenly had administered 30,000 units of heparin. Although the surgical team administered protamine to reverse the anticoagulant effect, the bleeding and hypotension had irreversibly damaged the transplanted kidney.
Stephen Bacak, DO, MPH, and Loralei Thornburg, MD; March 2018
A pregnant woman presented to the emergency department 3 times in 4 days, first with symptoms of upper respiratory infection, nausea, and fever; then abdominal cramps; then shortness of breath and abdominal pain. On the third visit, she was diagnosed with influenza and possible sepsis. In between visits, the patient had been taking acetaminophen (1g every 4 hours) to control her fever. Although she had signs of acute fulminant hepatitis due to acetaminophen overdose, administration of the antidote, N-acetylcysteine, was delayed for 10 hours.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Ralf Jox, MD, PhD; November 2017
An older man admitted for the third time in 4 weeks for an exacerbation of congestive heart failure expressed his wishes to focus on comfort and pursue hospice care. Comfort measures were initiated and other treatments were stopped. The care team wrote for a standing dose of IV hydromorphone every 4 hours. The night shift nurse administered the scheduled dose at 3:00 AM. At 7:00 AM, the palliative care attending found the patient obtunded, with shallow respirations and a low respiratory rate.
Nancy Staggers, PhD, RN; October 2017
Hospitalized with sepsis secondary to an infected IV line through which she was receiving treprostnil (a high-alert medication used to treat pulmonary hypertension), a woman was transferred to interventional radiology for placement of a new permanent catheter once the infection cleared. Sign-off between departments included a warning not to flush the line since it would lead to a dangerous overdose. However, while attempting to identify an infusion pump alarm, a radiology technician accidentally flushed the line, which led to a near code situation.
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
Amir A. Ghaferi, MD, MS; August 2017
Admitted to gynecology due to excess bleeding and low hemoglobin after elective surgery, an older woman developed severe pain, nausea, and new-onset atrial fibrillation. She was moved to the telemetry unit where cardiologists treated her, and she had episodes of bloody vomit. Intensivists consulted, but the patient arrested while being transferred to the ICU and died despite maximal efforts.
- Spotlight Case
Umar Sadat, MD, PhD, and Richard Solomon, MD; June 2017
To avoid worsening acute kidney injury in an older man with possible mesenteric ischemia, the provider ordered an abdominal CT without contrast, but the results were not diagnostic. Shortly later, the patient developed acute paralysis, and an urgent CT with contrast revealed blockage and a blood clot.
Lekshmi Santhosh, MD, and V. Courtney Broaddus, MD; June 2017
A woman with pneumothorax required urgent chest tube placement. After she showed improvement during her hospital stay, the pulmonary team requested the tube be disconnected and clamped with a follow-up radiograph 1 hour later. However, 3 hours after the tube was clamped, no radiograph had been done and the patient was found unresponsive, in cardiac arrest.
Maria C. Raven, MD, MPH, MSc; June 2017
Presenting with pain in her epigastric region and back, an older woman with a history of opioid abuse had abnormal vital signs and an elevated troponin level. Imaging revealed multiple spinal fractures and cord compression. Neurosurgery recommended conservative management overnight. However, her troponin levels spiked, and an ECG revealed myocardial infarction.
- Spotlight Case
Kyle Marshall, MD, and Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH; May 2017
Emergency department evaluation of a man with morbid obesity presenting with abdominal pain revealed tachycardia, hypertension, elevated creatinine, and no evidence of cholecystitis. Several hours later, the patient underwent CT scan; the physicians withheld contrast out of concern for his acute kidney injury. The initial scan provided no definitive answer. Ultimately, physicians ordered additional CT scans with contrast and diagnosed an acute aortic dissection.
Christopher M. Lehman, MD; May 2017
In the emergency department, an older man with multiple medical conditions was found to have evidence of acute kidney injury and an elevated serum potassium level. However, the blood sample was hemolyzed, which can alter the reading. Although the patient was admitted and a repeat potassium level was ordered, the physician did not institute treatment for hyperkalemia. Almost immediately after the laboratory called with a panic result indicating a dangerously high potassium level, the patient went into cardiac arrest.
- 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.
James B. Reilly, MD, MS, and Christopher Webster, DO; March 2017
A woman taking modified-release lithium for bipolar disorder was admitted with cough, slurred speech, confusion, and disorientation. Diagnosed with delirium attributed to hypercalcemia, she was treated with aggressive hydration. She remained disoriented and eventually became comatose. After transfer to the ICU, she was diagnosed with nephrogenic diabetes insipidus due to lithium toxicity.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Spotlight Case
Joseph O. Jacobson, MD, MSc, and Saul N. Weingart, MD, PhD; May 2013
A cancer patient expecting to be discharged from the hospital after his usual 3-day regimen was surprised to hear that he has 2 more days of chemotherapy. He asked to speak with the oncology team, who discovered that although the right medications were ordered, the wrong duration and dosage were selected on the order set.