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
- Culture of Safety 5
- Education and Training 10
- Error Reporting and Analysis 3
- Human Factors Engineering 11
- Legal and Policy Approaches 4
- Logistical Approaches 8
- Quality Improvement Strategies 4
- Specialization of Care 3
- Teamwork 3
- Clinical Information Systems 11
- Alert fatigue 1
- Device-related Complications 2
- Diagnostic Errors 7
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 34
- Failure to rescue 1
- Identification Errors 1
- Interruptions and distractions 3
- Medical Complications 1
- Medication Errors/Preventable Adverse Drug Events 6
- Psychological and Social Complications 2
- Surgical Complications 4
- Internal Medicine 18
- Nursing 5
- Pharmacy 1
- 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).
Kheyandra Lewis, MD, and Glenn Rosenbluth, MD; November 2018
Early in the academic year, interns were on their first day of a rotation caring for an elderly man hospitalized for a stroke, who had developed aspiration pneumonia and hypernatremia. When the primary intern signed out to the cross-cover intern, he asked her to check the patient's sodium level and replete the patient with IV fluids if needed. Although the cross-covering intern asked for more clarification, the intern signing out assured her the printed, written signout had all the information needed. Later that evening, the patient's sodium returned at a level above which the written signout stated to administer IV fluids, and after reviewing the plan with the supervising resident, the intern ordered them. The next morning the primary team was surprised, stating that the plan had been to give fluids only if the patient was definitely hypernatremic. Confused, the cross-cover intern pointed out the written signout instructions. On further review, the primary intern realized he had printed out the previous day's signout, which had not been updated with the new plan.
Jennifer Faig, MD, and Jessica A. Zerillo, MD, MPH; June 2018
Admitted to the oncology service for chemotherapy treatment, a woman with leukemia was noted to be neutropenic on hospital day 6. She had some abdominal discomfort and had not had a bowel movement for 2 days. The overnight physician ordered a suppository without realizing that the patient was neutropenic and immunosuppressed. Unaware that suppositories are contraindicated in neutropenic patients, the nurse administered the suppository. The patient developed a fever soon after receiving the suppository and required transfer to the intensive care unit for hypotension and management of septic shock.
- 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.
Cristiane Gomes-Lima, MD, and Kenneth D. Burman, MD; November 2017
Two cases in which thyroid function tests were ordered appropriately but not acted upon in a timely fashion illustrate the challenges of thyroid emergencies. The patient in Case #1 had a history of hyperthyroidism and noted not taking his medications for months, yet no one addressed his abnormal thyroid function tests until hospital day 3. He had thyroid storm. In Case #2, providers neglected to follow up on the patient's abnormal thyroid function tests, even though she was taking a medication with a known risk of thyroid toxicity. She had myxedema coma.
Yael K. Heher, MD, MPH; November 2017
A resident entered orders into the EHR for a biopsy specimen of a patient's rash to be sent to pathology for evaluation. The biopsy specimen was delivered to the laboratory without a copy of the orders. Because pathology and the medicine service did not share the same EHR, the laboratory could neither view the orders nor direct the biopsy to the appropriate area for analysis without a printed copy. The next day, the resident attempted to look up the results but found none.
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.
Sarah Doernberg, MD, MAS; July 2017
A woman was discharged with instructions to complete an antibiotic course for C. difficile. The same day, the microbiology laboratory notified the patient's nurse that her blood culture grew Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause life-threatening infection. However, the result was not communicated to the medical team prior to discharge.
Eric Warm, MD; November 2016
After a motor vehicle collision, a patient with headaches and difficulty concentrating visited the internal medicine clinic. The covering resident diagnosed postconcussive syndrome and prescribed amitriptyline. The patient returned several days later with persistent symptoms. She saw a different resident, who ordered an MRI and referred her to neurology but mistakenly made the referral to the neuromuscular, rather than headache, clinic. With continued severe headaches, the patient returned a third time and saw her primary resident provider, who referred her to the correct neurology clinic.
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.
Annie Yang, PharmD, and Lewis Nelson, MD; September 2016
Admitted for knee surgery, a man was given his medications at 10 PM, including oral dofetilide (an antiarrhythmic agent with a strict 12-hour dosing interval). In the electronic health record, "q12 hour" drugs are scheduled for 6 AM and 6 PM by default. Because the patient was scheduled to leave for the operating room before 6 AM, the nurse gave the dose at 4 AM. Preoperative ECG revealed he had severe QTc prolongation (putting him at risk for a fatal arrhythmia), and surgery was canceled.
- Spotlight Case
Patricia Juang, MD, and Kristen Kulasa, MD; April 2016
While hospitalized, a man with diabetes had difficult-to-control blood sugars, with multiple episodes of both critical hypoglycemia and serious hyperglycemia. Because "holds" of the patient's insulin were not clearly documented in the electronic health record and blood sugar readings were not uploaded in real time, providers were unaware of how much insulin had actually been given.
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.
Megumi J. Okumura, MD, MAS, and Roberta G. Williams, MD; May 2015
A 21-year-old woman with a history of Marfan syndrome complicated by aortic root dilation presented to the emergency department with abdominal pain and was found to be pregnant. It was her second pregnancy; she had a therapeutic abortion 4 years earlier due to the risk of aortic rupture during pregnancy. At that time, the patient had been advised to have her aortic root surgically repaired in the near future. However, after the patient turned 18, she did not receive regular follow-up care or pre-conception or contraception counseling despite the risk to her health should she become pregnant.
Timothy W. Farrell, MD; April 2015
For a man with hypertension, prostate cancer, and chronic kidney disease hospitalized with acute kidney injury, discharge planning created numerous challenges. The inpatient team wanted a 1-week follow up, but the patient was new to this health system and had not yet seen a primary care provider. With the next available appointment in 6 weeks, the patient was instructed to call the urgent care clinic (which offered only same-day appointments) 1 week later. However, he never made it to the clinic and presented to the emergency department 2 weeks later with poorly controlled hypertension.
- Spotlight Case
by John G. DeVine, MD; March 2015
A man with suspected renal cell carcinoma seen on CT in the right kidney was transferred to another hospital for surgical management. The imaging was not sent with him, but hospital records, which incorrectly documented the tumor as being on the left side—were. The second hospital did not obtain repeat imaging, and the surgeon did not see the original CT prior to removing the wrong kidney.
Allan Goldman, MB, and Ken Catchpole, PhD; September 2012
Prior to surgery, failure to transmit information about a man whose blood glucose level fell precipitously after receiving insulin, combined with the fact that the electronic health record (EHR) had not been updated with current glucose levels, led to another dangerous drop in the patient's glucose level.
Eugene Litvak, PhD, and Sarah A. Bernheim; November 2011
Following hospitalization for suicidality, a woman was discharged to the care of her outpatient psychiatrist, a senior resident who was about to graduate. At her last visit in June before the year-end transfer, the patient was unable to schedule a follow-up visit because the new residents' schedules were not yet in the system. The delay in care had deadly consequences.