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WebM&M: Case Studies

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.

Have you encountered medical errors or patient safety issues? Submit your case below to help the medical community and to prevent similar errors in the future.

This Month's WebM&Ms

Update Date: September 28, 2022
Have you encountered medical errors or patient safety issues?
Have you encountered medical errors or patient safety issues? Submit your case below to help the medical community and to prevent similar errors in the future.

All WebM&M: Case Studies (165)

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1 - 20 of 165 WebM&M Case Studies
Garima Agrawal, MD, MPH, and Mithu Molla, MD, MBA | May 16, 2022

This WebM&M describes two cases involving patients who became unresponsive in unconventional locations – inside of a computed tomography (CT) scanner and at an outpatient transplant clinic – and strategies to ensure that all healthcare teams are prepared to deliver advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), such as the use of mock codes and standardized ACLS algorithms.

David Barnes, MD and Joseph Yoon, MD | April 27, 2022

An 18-month-old girl presented to the Emergency Department (ED) after being attacked by a dog and sustaining multiple penetrating injuries to her head and neck. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to establish intravenous access, an intraosseous (IO) line was placed in the patient’s proximal left tibia to facilitate administration of fluids, blood products, vasopressors, and antibiotics.  In the operating room, peripheral intravenous (IV) access was eventually obtained after which intraoperative use of the IO line was restricted to a low-rate fluid infusion.  An hour into the operation, the anesthesiologist found her left calf to be warm and tense, presumably due to fluid extravasation from the IO line.  The IO line was removed, and the Orthopedic Surgery service was consulted intraoperatively due to concern for acute compartment syndrome.  Signs of compartment syndrome eventually resolved without any surgical intervention.  The commentary summarizes complications associated with IO lines, the importance of anticipating procedural complications, and methods to identify the signs and symptoms of acute compartment syndrome.

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A 61-year-old male was admitted for a right total knee replacement under regional anesthesia. The surgeon – unaware that the anesthesiologist had already performed a right femoral nerve block with 20 ml (100mg) of 0.5% racemic bupivacaine for postoperative analgesia – also infiltrated the arthroplasty wound with 200 mg of ropivacaine. The patient was sedated with an infusion of propofol throughout the procedure. At the end of the procedure, after stopping the propofol infusion, the patient remained unresponsive, and the anesthesiologist diagnosed the patient with Local Anesthetic Systemic Toxicity (LAST). The commentary addresses the symptoms of LAST, the importance of adhering to local anesthetic dosing guidelines, and the essential role of effective communication between operating room team members.

Gary S. Leiserowitz, MD, MS and Herman Hedriana, MD| July 29, 2020

A 28-year-old woman arrived at the Emergency Department (ED) with back pain, bloody vaginal discharge, and reported she had had a positive home pregnancy test but had not received any prenatal care and was unsure of her expected due date. The ED intern evaluating the patient did not suspect active labor and the radiologist remotely reviewing the pelvic ultrasound mistakenly identified the fetal head as a “pelvic mass.” Four hours later, the consulting OB/GYN physician recognized that the patient was in her third trimester and in active labor. She was transferred to Labor and Delivery for labor management, which led to an emergency cesarean section. A neonatal seizure was observed, and brain MRI revealed a perinatal stroke. The Commentary discusses the types of diagnostic errors leading to missed diagnoses and the importance of appropriate supervision of physician trainees.

Sarina Fazio, PhD, RN and Rachelle Firestone, PharmD, BCCCP| May 27, 2020
A patient with multiple comorbidities and chronic pain was admitted for elective spinal decompression and fusion. The patient was placed on a postoperative patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) for pain control and was later found unresponsive. The case illustrates risks associated with opioid administration through PCA, particularly among patients at high risk for postoperative opioid-induced respiratory depression.
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Tanya Rinderknecht, MD and Garth Utter MD, MSc| April 29, 2020
A 52-year old women presented to the emergency department with a necrotizing soft tissue infection (necrotizing fasciitis) after undergoing cosmetic abdominoplasty (‘tummy tuck’) elsewhere. A lack of communication and disputes between the Emergency Medicine, Emergency General Surgery and Plastic Surgery teams about what service was responsible for the patient’s care led to delays in treatment. These delays allowed the infection to progress, ultimately requiring excision of a large area of skin and soft tissue.
Glen Xiong, MD and Debra Kahn, MD| November 27, 2019
Two different patients were seen in the emergency department a history of excessive alcohol consumption and suicidal ideation along with other medical comorbidities. In both cases, acute medical conditions prevented a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation being completed by psychiatric emergency services. Unfortunately, both patients were discharged after resolution of their medical conditions and were later found dead.
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Zara Cooper, MD, MSc| September 25, 2019
A man with a history of T6 paraplegia came to the emergency department with delirium, hypotension, and fever. Laboratory results revealed a high white blood cell count and mild elevation of bilirubin and liver enzymes. A stat abdominal CT showed a mildly thickened gallbladder. The patient was admitted to the intensive care unit with a provisional diagnosis of septic shock and treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics and intravenous fluids. He was transferred to the medical ward on hospital day 2, where the receiving hospitalist realized the diagnosis was still unclear. A second CT scan showed a 6 cm abscess near the liver, likely arising from a perforated gallbladder. The patient underwent an urgent open cholecystectomy and drainage of the abscess.
Mythili P. Pathipati, MD, and James M. Richter, MD| August 10, 2019
An elderly man had iron deficiency anemia with progressively falling hemoglobin levels for nearly 2 years. Although during that time he underwent an upper endoscopy, capsule endoscopy, and repeat upper endoscopy and received multiple infusions of iron and blood, his primary physician maintained that he didn't need a repeat colonoscopy despite his anemia because his previous colonoscopy was negative. The patient ultimately presented to the emergency department with a bowel obstruction, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and underwent surgery to resect the mass.
Yi Lu, MD, PhD, and Douglas Salvador, MD, MPH| August 8, 2019
A woman with a history of prior spine surgery presented to the emergency department with progressive low back pain. An MRI scan of T11–S1 showed lumbar degenerative joint disease and a small L5–S1 disc herniation. She was referred for physical therapy and prescribed muscle relaxant, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and pain relievers. Ten days later, she presented to a community hospital with fever, inability to walk, and numbness from the waist down. Her white blood cell count was greater than 30,000 and she was found to be in acute renal and liver failure. She was transferred to a neurosurgery service at an academic hospital when an MRI revealed a T6–T10 thoracic epidural abscess.
Melissa S. Wong, MD; Angelica Vivero, MD; Ellen B. Klapper, MD; and Kimberly D. Gregory, MD, MPH| July 2, 2019
First admitted to the hospital at 25 weeks of pregnancy for vaginal bleeding, a woman (G5 P2 A2) received 4 units of packed red blood cells and 2 doses of iron injections. She was discharged after 3 days with an improved hemoglobin level. At 35 weeks, she was admitted for an elective cesarean delivery. Intraoperatively, an upper uterine segment incision was made and the newborn was delivered in good condition. Immediately after, a subtotal hysterectomy was performed. The anesthesiologist noted that the patient was hypotensive; blood was transfused. A rash developed surrounding the transfusion site and widespread ecchymosis appeared as she became more unstable. Although physicians attempted to stabilize her with fluids and medications and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was performed for 60 minutes, the patient died.
Stephanie Rogers, MD, and Derek Ward, MD| April 1, 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.
C. Craig Blackmore, MD, MPH| March 1, 2019
A woman with multiple myeloma required placement of a central venous catheter for apheresis. The outpatient oncologist intended to order a nontunneled catheter via computerized provider order entry but accidentally ordered a tunneled catheter. The interventional radiologist thought the order was unusual but didn't contact the oncologist. A tunneled catheter was placed without complications. When the patient presented for apheresis, providers recognized the wrong catheter had been placed, and the patient underwent an additional procedure.
Rommel Sagana, MD, and Robert C. Hyzy, MD| March 1, 2019
Following an elective carotid endarterectomy, an elderly woman was extubated in the operating room (OR) and brought to the recovery area. She soon developed respiratory distress necessitating urgent reintubation, which required multiple attempts. She was found to have an expanding neck hematoma, which was drained safely in the OR. Later that day after a half hour weaning trial, the respiratory therapist extubated the patient without checking for a cuff leak. Within 15 minutes, she developed acute shortness of breath and stridor, which rapidly progressed to hypoxemic respiratory failure. Urgent reintubation was difficult because her vocal cords were edematous.
Nicole M. Acquisto, PharmD, and Daniel J. Cobaugh, PharmD| March 1, 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.
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).
Elise Orvedal Leiten, MD, and Rune Nielsen, MD, PhD| January 1, 2019
Hospitalized in the ICU with hypoxic respiratory failure due to community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man had increased pulmonary secretions on hospital day 2 for which the critical care provider decided to perform bedside bronchoscopy. Following the procedure, the patient was difficult to arouse, nearly apneic, and required intubation. The care team paused and discovered that after the patient had received 2 mg of intravenous midalozam, his IV line had been flushed with an additional 10 mg of the benzodiazepine, rather than the intended normal saline. This high dose of midazolam led to the respiratory failure requiring intubation. On top of that, instead of normal saline, lidocaine had been used for the lung lavage.
Jeanna Blitz, MD| November 1, 2018
When patients in two cases did not receive complete preanesthetic evaluation, problems with intubation ensued. In the first case, an anesthesiologist went to evaluate a morbidly obese patient scheduled for hysteroscopy. As the patient was donning her hospital gown behind a closed curtain, he waited but left without performing the preoperative assessment because the morning surgery list was overbooked and he had many other patients to see. Once in the operating room, he discovered on chart review that the woman had a history of gastroesophageal reflux. She could not be intubated, and a supraglottic airway was placed. In the second case, an elderly man with a tumor mass at the base of his tongue was scheduled for a biopsy. On examination, the anesthesiologist could not see much of the mass with the patient's mouth maximally open and tongue sticking out, and he couldn't locate the patient's head and neck CT to further evaluate the mass. The surgeon arrived late and did not communicate with the anesthesiologist about the patient. After inducing general anesthesia, laryngoscopy and intubation proved extremely difficult as the mass obscured the view of the larynx. A second anesthesiologist was called, and together they were able to intubate the patient with a fiberoptic bronchoscope.
Ifedayo Kuye, MD, MBA, and Chanu Rhee, MD, MPH| October 1, 2018
Admitted with generalized weakness, nausea, and low blood pressure, an elderly man was given IV fluids and broad spectrum antibiotics. Laboratory test results revealed a mildly elevated white count, acute kidney injury, and elevated liver function tests. The patient was admitted to the medical ICU with a presumed diagnosis of septic shock. His blood pressure continued to trend downward. While reviewing the emergency department test results, the ICU resident noticed the patient's troponin level was markedly elevated and his initial ECG revealed T-wave inversions. A repeat ECG in the ICU showed obvious ST segment elevations, diagnostic of an acute myocardial infarction. The resident realized that the patient's low blood pressure was likely due to the myocardial infarction, not septic shock. He underwent urgent cardiac catheterization and was found to have complete occlusion of the right coronary artery, for which a stent was placed.
A 1-month-old preterm infant in the NICU receiving the standard 500 mL bag of 0.45% sodium chloride (NaCl) with heparin at low rates developed hyponatremia. Clinicians recognized the need to deliver a more concentrated sodium solution and ordered that the IV fluid be changed to a 500 mL bag of 0.9% NaCl with heparin. However, due to a natural disaster affecting the supply chain for IV fluids, 0.9% NaCl 500 mL bags were in short supply, and the order was modified to use 100 mL 0.9% NaCl bags, which were available. Since the total volume was much smaller, a lower concentration formulation of heparin was required. However, the verifying pharmacist discovered that an 10-fold higher concentration had been used to compound the fluids, and further investigation revealed this same error had occurred on five other occasions.