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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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.
Peter D. Mills, PhD, MS; May 2018
A woman with a history of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder presented to the emergency department after a suicide attempt. Physical examination was significant for depressed affect and superficial lacerations to the bilateral forearms. Her left forearm laceration was sutured and bandaged with gauze. A psychiatrist evaluated her and placed an involuntary legal hold. Upon arrival to the inpatient psychiatric unit, the patient asked to use the bathroom. She unwrapped her wrist bandage, wrapped it around her neck and over the shower bar, and tried to hang herself. A staff member heard noise in the bathroom, immediately entered, and cut the gauze before the patient was seriously injured.
Jamie M. Robertson, PhD, MPH, and Charles N. Pozner, MD; April 2018
A clinical team decided to use a radial artery approach for cardiac catheterization in a woman with morbid obesity. It took multiple attempts to access her radial artery. After catheter insertion, she experienced pain and pressure in her arm and chest. Review of the angiogram demonstrated the presence of an air embolism in the left coronary artery, introduced during the catheter insertion. Due to the difficulty of the procedure, the technician had failed to hold the syringe at the proper angle and introduced an air bubble into the patient's vessel.
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.
Michael J. Barrington, MBBS, PhD, and Yoshiaki Uda, MBBS; April 2017
An older woman admitted to the medical-surgical ward with multiple right-sided rib fractures received a paravertebral block to control the pain. After the procedure, the anesthesiologist realized that the block had been placed on the wrong side. The patient required an additional paravertebral block on the correct side, which increased her risk of complications and exposed her to additional medication.
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.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Charlie C. Kilpatrick, MD; September 2015
After several days of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, a pregnant woman visited the emergency department and was swiftly discharged with antibiotics for a UTI. However, she returned the next day with unchanged abdominal pain and more nausea and vomiting. Apart from a focused ultrasound to document her pregnancy, no further testing was done. The patient again returned the following day with increased pain and now appeared more ill. An MRI revealed a ruptured appendix.
Matthew S. Russell, MD, and Marika D. Russell, MD; July/August 2015
Admitted to the hospital with sepsis and pneumonia, an elderly man developed acute respiratory distress syndrome requiring mechanical ventilation. On hospital day 12, clinicians placed a tracheostomy, and a few days later the patient developed acute hypoxia and ultimately went into cardiac arrest when his tracheostomy tube became dislodged.
Dustin W. Ballard, MD, MBE; David R. Vinson, MD; and Dustin G. Mark, MD; May 2015
A man with a history of poorly controlled diabetes and pancreatic insufficiency was found unresponsive. Paramedics transported him to the emergency department, where a resident placed a right internal jugular line for access but was unable to confirm placement. The resident pulled the line, opened a second line insertion kit, started over, and confirmed placement with ultrasound. The patient went into cardiac arrest, and a chest radiograph noted a retained guidewire in the pulmonary artery.
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.
Krishna Moorthy, MD, MS; January 2015
Following outpatient laparoscopic surgery to repair an inguinal hernia, a man with no significant past medical history had high levels of pain at the surgical site and was admitted to the hospital. With sustained pain on postoperative day 3, the patient developed tachycardia with abdominal distension and a low-grade fever. A CT scan revealed a bowel perforation, which required surgery and a lengthy ICU stay due to septicemia.
John H. Eichhorn, MD; January 2015
While undergoing an elective coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) and ablation, an elderly man had a pulmonary artery catheter (PAC) placed to monitor his hemodynamic status. During the operation, the team was informed that another patient needed an emergency CABG. In the rush to attend to the second patient, the PAC in the first was left inflated for a prolonged period, which could have led to a catastrophic complication.
Daniel Saddawi-Konefka, MD, and Jeffrey B. Cooper, PhD; December 2013
Prior to coronary artery bypass surgery, a man with morbid obesity, hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, claustrophobia, and 3-vessel coronary artery disease was given oxygen to achieve pre-oxygenation. Within a few minutes, the anesthesia team noted the patient was unresponsive with shallow breathing. Further investigation revealed the anesthesia machine was delivering 12% desflurane (a general anesthetic) instead of oxygen alone.
Krishan Soni, MD, MBA, and Gurpreet Dhaliwal, MD; July 2012
A man presented to the emergency department (ED) complaining of knee problems, and the triage nurse wrote down the chief complaint as "bilateral knee pain." The ED physician diagnosed a musculoskeletal injury and prepared to discharge him, but the patient was noticeably unsteady. Further examination and imaging revealed a subdural hematoma requiring urgent neurosurgical intervention.
Marta L. Render, MD; May 2012
After placing a central line in an elderly patient following a heart attack, a community hospital transferred him to a referral hospital for stenting of his coronary arteries. He was discharged to an assisted living facility 2 days later, with the central line still in place.
William W. Churchill, MS, RPh; Karen Fiumara, PharmD; April 2009
A powerful anti-clotting medication is ordered for a patient admitted for coronary intervention. Due to a forcing function in the computer order entry system, the intern enters an arbitrary maintenance infusion rate, assuming that the pharmacy will fix it if it is wrong. The pharmacy dispenses it as written, and the nurse administers it—underdosing the patient by a factor of 40.
- Spotlight Case
Christopher Fee, MD; February-March 2009
Interrupted during a telephone handoff, an ED physician, despite limited information, must treat a patient in respiratory arrest. The patient is stabilized and transferred to the ICU with a presumed diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia and septic shock. Later, ICU physicians obtain further history that leads to the correct diagnosis: pulmonary embolism.
Norma A. Metheny, RN, PhD; Kathleen L. Meert, MD; September 2008
A boy was receiving enteral feedings while recovering from a traumatic brain injury. The nasojejunal tube migrated to the gastric area, and the patient developed pneumonia, likely due to aspiration.