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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- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems 11
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Health Care Providers
- Nurses 4
- Non-Health Care Professionals 15
- Spotlight Case
Olle ten Cate, PhD; November 2018
An ICU patient with head and spine trauma was sent for an MRI. Due his critical condition, hospital policy required a physician and nurse to accompany the patient to the MRI scanner. The ICU attending assigned a new intern, who felt unprepared to handle any crises that might arise, to transport the patient along with the nurse. While in a holding area awaiting the MRI, the patient's heart rate fell below 20 beats per minute, and the experienced ICU nurse administered atropine to recover his heart rate and blood pressure. The intern worried he had placed the patient's life at risk because of his inexperience, but he also felt uncomfortable speaking up.
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.
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.
John Q. Young, MD, MPP; June 2016
Multiple transitions and assumptions made during the first week in July, when the graduating fellow had left and a new fellow and intern had begun on the surgery service, led to a patient mistakenly not receiving medication to prevent venous thromboembolism until several days after his surgery.
- Spotlight Case
Jeffrey H. Barsuk, MD, MS; July 2012
Following gallbladder removal, a patient presented with abdominal pain and fluid in her abdomen. The admitting team, comprised of a second-year resident and intern, decided to perform a paracentesis (fluid removal) without supervision. The patient had a complication necessitating emergency surgery and an ICU stay.
John Q. Young, MD, MPP; July 2011
A healthy elderly man presented to his primary care doctor—a third-year internal medicine resident—for routine examination. A PSA test was markedly elevated, but the results came back after the resident had graduated, and the alert went unread. Months later, the patient presented with new onset low back pain and was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.
- Spotlight Case
Ernest J. Ring, MD; Jane E. Hirsch, RN, MS; October 2009
Cardiology consultation on an elderly man admitted to the orthopedic service following a hip fracture reveals aortic stenosis. The cardiologist recommends against surgery, due to the risk of anesthesia. When the nurse reads these recommendations to the orthopedic resident, he calls her "stupid" and contacts the OR to schedule the surgery anyway. The Chief Medical Officer is called to intervene.
Clarence H. Braddock III, MD, MPH; November 2008
A woman with diabetes is admitted to a teaching hospital in July. An intern, who received training at a hospital where only paper orders were used, mistakenly chose the wrong form for the insulin order. As a result, the insulin dose was not adjusted for the patient's NPO (nothing by mouth) status, and she became unresponsive.
- Spotlight Case
F. Daniel Duffy, MD; Christine K. Cassel, MD; October 2007
Following surgery, a woman on a patient-controlled analgesia pump is found to be lethargic and incoherent, with a low respiratory rate. The nurse contacted the attending physician, who dismisses the patient's symptoms and chastises the nurse for the late call.
Bernard Lo, MD; September 2006
An elderly woman who had a DNR in place took a fall that required her to have surgery. Discussion with the patient's health care proxy led to the DNR order being suspended during surgery, with the understanding that it would be reinstated postoperatively. Several days later, a nurse noticed that patient remained 'full code' because the DNR had not been restored.
- Spotlight Case
George R. Thompson III, MD, and Abraham Verghese, MD; August 2006
A man with paraplegia was admitted to the hospital, but the admitting physician, night float resident, and daytime team all "deferred" examination of the genital area. The patient was later discovered to have life-threatening necrotizing fasciitis of this area.
Mary K. Goldstein, MD, MS ; February 2006
Failure to enter documentation of a DNR order causes a severely ill elderly man to be resuscitated against his wishes. Shortly thereafter, the patient's wife confirms his wishes, and within minutes, the patient dies.
Louis P. Halamek, MD ; December 2005
A resident in the middle of delivering an infant turns away for a moment, during which the mother adjusts herself and the infant drops headfirst onto the floor.
- Spotlight Case
Douglas D. Brunette, MD; March 2005
The challenges of examining and imaging a hospitalized morbidly obese patient delay diagnosis, threatening the patient's life.
Tracy Minichiello, MD; March 2005
Despite a box on the admission form warning against using blood thinners and epidural anesthesia together, a patient admitted for elective surgery receives both, and becomes permanently paralyzed.
Anna B. Reisman, MD; December 2004
Feeling "weak" late at night, a patient calls his doctor's office. The covering physician misses a few clues, which might have prompted a different plan.
Neil A. Holtzman, MD, MPH; December 2004
A pregnant woman is offered genetic testing for herself and her husband. Although he declines, the next time he undergoes routine testing, the phlebotomist overrides the consent in the computerized record and runs the test anyway.
Joseph M. Furman, MD, PhD; June 2004
A woman presents to the ED with severe vertigo and vomiting. Over several hours, she is handed off to three different physicians, none of whom suspects a dangerous lesion. Later, an hour after onset of a severe headache, she dies.
Ken J. Farion, MD; July 2003
A physician in the ED mistakenly glues a child's eye shut when attempting to close a facial wound with skin adhesive.
Eran Kozer, MD; June 2003
A boy given an overdose of nifedipine rather than its extended-release (XL) form suffers dangerous hypotension.