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 93
- Culture of Safety 12
- Education and Training 23
Error Reporting and Analysis
- Error Analysis 13
Human Factors Engineering
- Checklists 19
- Legal and Policy Approaches 13
- Logistical Approaches 9
- Quality Improvement Strategies 35
- Specialization of Care 10
- Teamwork 16
- Clinical Information Systems 25
- Alert fatigue 1
- Device-related Complications 9
- Diagnostic Errors 27
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 57
- Identification Errors 8
- Interruptions and distractions 7
- Delirium 1
- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events 24
- Nonsurgical Procedural Complications 4
- Psychological and Social Complications 10
- Surgical Complications 22
- Transfusion Complications 1
- Gynecology 15
- Geriatrics 11
- Nursing 14
- Palliative Care 1
- Pharmacy 3
- Health Care Executives and Administrators 55
Health Care Providers
- Nurses 15
- Physicians 25
- Non-Health Care Professionals 35
- Patients 1
John Day and John T. Paige, MD; May 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.
Nicole M. Acquisto, PharmD, and Daniel J. Cobaugh, PharmD; March 2019
Seen in the emergency department, a man with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus had not taken insulin for 3 days. His blood glucose levels were in the 800s with an anion-gap acidosis and positive beta hydroxybutyrate. While awaiting an ICU bed for treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis, the patient received fluids, an insulin drip was started, and blood glucose levels were monitored hourly. When lab results showed he was improving, the team decided to convert his insulin drip to subcutaneous long-acting insulin. However, both the intern and the resident ordered 50 units of insulin, and the patient received both doses—causing his blood glucose level to dip into the 30s.
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).
Thomas J. Balcezak, MD, MPH, and Ohm Deshpande, MD; October 2018
An elderly man presented to the emergency department (ED) with decreased oral intake, fevers, confusion, and falling urine output. Laboratory test results revealed acute-on-chronic renal failure, and an ECG showed tall T waves, potentially a sign of severe hyperkalemia and a precursor of a dangerous arrhythmia. The ED physician initiated treatment for hyperkalemia, and the on-call intensivist and nephrologist agreed the patient needed urgent hemodialysis. Although they planned to place a hemodialysis catheter and start dialysis as soon as possible, the ICU was full and the patient was forced to "board" in the ED. On arrival to the ICU, 5 hours after the initial labs, the patient was hypotensive and unarousable. The patient went into cardiac arrest, was intubated, and received urgent treatment for hyperkalemia. The nephrologist arrived and was surprised the hemodialysis had not been started. The dialysis nurse had been told to start the dialysis after the patient arrived in the ICU but was unaware of the urgency of the situation.
Giovanni Elia, MD; Susan Barbour, RN, MS; and Wendy G. Anderson, MD, MS; August 2018
Hospitalized in the ICU after cardiac arrest and loss of cardiac function for 15 minutes, an older man experienced worsening neurological status. After extensive discussions about goals of care, the family agreed to a DNR order. Over the next week, his condition declined, and the family decided to transition to comfort measures. Orders were written but shortly thereafter, the family spoke with the ICU resident and reversed their decision. The resident canceled the terminal extubation orders without communicating the order change to other team members. Another nurse found the canceled orders, thought it was an error, and asked another physician (who was also unaware of the change in plans) to reinstate the orders. The patient was extubated and died a few hours later.
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.
Robert E. O'Connor, MD, MPH; March 2018
Emergency medical service (EMS) providers obtained an electrocardiogram (ECG) in a woman who had developed severe chest pressure at home. The ECG revealed an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). Unfortunately, the ECG failed to transmit to the emergency department (ED) while EMS was en route, so a "Code STEMI" was not activated. Unaware of the original ECG results, ED clinicians obtained a repeat ECG that did not demonstrate the earlier ST segment elevations, and the patient was admitted to the telemetry unit for monitoring overnight. The next morning, lab results revealed an elevated troponin level and another ECG demonstrated she had a large heart attack the previous day. Although the patient was rushed to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, the delay in treatment led to significant loss of cardiac function.
- Spotlight Case
Amy J. Starmer, MD, MPH, and Christopher P. Landrigan, MD, MPH ; February 2018
Admitted with an intracranial mass and hemorrhage, a woman with atrial fibrillation had been stable for several days when the ICU team and neurosurgeon decided that the benefits of low-dose DVT prophylaxis would outweigh the risk of serious bleeding. However, no dose or route of administration was specified, and the overnight resident ordered full-dose (rather than the prophylactic dose) anticoagulation. The hemorrhage grew and brain compression worsened, leaving the patient with no chance for meaningful recovery.
Ian Solsky, MD, and Alex B. Haynes, MD, MPH; December 2017
Prior to performing a bilateral femoral artery embolectomy on a man with coronary artery disease and diabetes, the team used a surgical safety checklist for a preoperative briefing. Although the surgeon told the anesthesiologist the patient would benefit from epidural analgesia continued into the perioperative period, he failed to mention the patient would be therapeutically anticoagulated for several days postoperatively. No postoperative debriefing was conducted. The anesthesiologist continued orders for epidural analgesia and the epidural catheter remained in place, putting the patient at risk of bleeding.
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.
Barbara Haas, MD, PhD, and Lesley Gotlib Conn, PhD; May 2017
Admitted to the ICU with septic shock, a man with a transplanted kidney developed hypotension and required new central venous access. Since providers anticipated using the patient's left internal jugular vein catheter for re-starting hemodialysis (making it unsuitable to use for resuscitation), the ICU team placed the central line in the right femoral vein. However, they failed to recognize that his transplanted kidney was on the right side, which meant that femoral catheter placement on that side was contraindicated.
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.
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.
Mitchell Levy, MD; October 2016
Administered antibiotics in the emergency department and rushed to the operating room for emergent cesarean delivery, a pregnant woman was found to have an infection of the amniotic sac. After delivery, she was transferred to the hospital floor without a continuation order for antibiotics. Within 24 hours, the inpatient team realized she had developed septic shock.
Jennifer Malana, MSN, RN, and Audrey Lyndon, PhD, RN; October 2016
A pregnant woman was admitted for induction of labor for postterm dates. Prior to artificial rupture of membranes (AROM), the intern found a negative culture for group B strep in the hospital record but failed to note a positive culture in faxed records from an outside clinic. Another physician caught the error, ordered antibiotics, and delayed AROM to allow time for the medication to infuse.
- Spotlight Case
Vimla L. Patel, PhD, and Timothy G. Buchman, PhD, MD; July/August 2016
Admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with acute respiratory distress syndrome due to severe pancreatitis, an older woman had a central line placed. Despite maximal treatment, the patient experienced a cardiac arrest and was resuscitated. The intensivist was also actively managing numerous other ICU patients and lacked time to consider why the patient's condition had worsened.
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.
Cindy S. Lee, MD, and Christopher P. Hess, MD, PhD; May 2016
An older man with a history of heavy smoking and chest pain underwent a chest CT in the emergency department that showed no evidence of an aortic dissection on the preliminary read. Although the patient followed up soon thereafter with a new primary care physician, it was not discovered until several months later that a suspicious lung nodule had been spotted on the initial CT.
Michael E. Detsky, MD, MSc; April 2016
During a hospitalization after a cardiac arrest, an older man underwent placement of a PEG tube for nutrition, and an abdominal radiograph the next day showed "free air under the diaphragm." Although the resident got a "curbside consult" from surgery saying this finding should be monitored, the consult was not documented in the chart. Two days later, the patient was urgently taken to surgery to repair a large gastric perforation and spillage of tube feeds into the peritoneum and then transferred to the ICU in septic shock.
Kevin Moore, MBBS, PhD; December 2015
A man with cirrhosis and abdominal distension was found to have significant ascites. The emergency department providers performed a large volume paracentesis to relieve his symptoms, but, as the 10th liter of fluid was removed, the patient became acutely hypotensive.