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
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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.
Varalakshmi Janamanchi, MD; Kunjam Modha, MD; and Christopher Whinney, MD; December 2017
At a preoperative evaluation for skin grafting surgery, a man's prescription medications were reviewed and updated in his medical record. During surgery, the patient experienced profuse bleeding, requiring transfusion with multiple units of blood. Postoperatively, the patient stabilized and the attending surgeon reexamined the patient's medications with him and asked about over-the-counter medications. The patient had been taking one aspirin per day, including the day of surgery. Although the patient was asked about blood-thinning medications at the preoperative visit, he was not asked about over-the-counter medications.
- 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.
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.
- Spotlight Case
Anne M. Turner, MD, MLIS, MPH; October 2017
A Spanish-speaking woman presented to an urgent care clinic complaining of headache and worsening dizziness, for which the treating clinician ordered an MRI. When the results came in with no concerning findings later that day, the provider used Google Translate to write a letter informing the patient of the results. The patient interpreted the letter to mean that the results were concerning. This miscommunication led to patient distress and extra visits to both urgent care and the emergency department.
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
Lisa Strate, MD, MPH, and Sophia Swanson, MD; September 2017
An older man with Crohn disease was admitted for abdominal pain and high stool output from his ileostomy. Despite blood passing from his ostomy and a falling hemoglobin level, the patient was not given a timely blood transfusion.
Clinton J. Coil, MD, MPH, and Mallory D. Witt, MD; September 2017
A woman developed sudden nausea and abdominal distension after undergoing inferior mesenteric artery stenting. The overnight intern forgot to follow up on her abdominal radiograph, which resulted in a critical delay in diagnosing acute mesenteric artery dissection and bowel infarction.
Casey A. Cable, MD; David J. Murphy, MD, PhD; and Greg S. Martin, MD, MSc; September 2017
For an older patient presenting with upper back pain and faint bilateral crackles, physicians misinterpreted a negative sepsis screen as a negative infection screen and delayed antibiotic treatment for pneumonia. The patient developed worsened hypoxemia, hypotension, delirium, and progressive organ failure.
- 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.
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.
F. Ralph Berberich, MD; August 2017
A 2-month-old boy brought in for a well-child visit was ordered the appropriate vaccinations, which included a combination vaccine for DTaP, Hib, and IPV. After administering the shots to the patient, the nurse realized she had given the DTaP vaccination alone, instead of the combination vaccine. Thus, the infant had to receive two additional injections.
- Spotlight Case
Shirley C. Paski, MD, MSc, and Jason A. Dominitz, MD, MHS; July 2017
Following an uncomplicated surgery, an older man developed acute colonic pseudo-obstruction refractory to conservative management. During a decompression colonoscopy, the patient's colon was perforated.
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.
Stephen Stewart, MBChB, PhD; July 2017
Hospitalized for pneumonia, a woman with a history of alcohol abuse and depression was found unconscious on the medical ward. A toxicology panel revealed her blood alcohol level was elevated at 530 mg/dL. A search of the ward revealed several empty containers of alcoholic foam sanitizer, which the patient confessed to ingesting.
- 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.