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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: November 16, 2022
Nasim Hedayati, MD, and Richard White, MD | November 16, 2022

A 61-year-old women with a mechanical aortic valve on chronic warfarin therapy was referred to the emergency department (ED) for urgent computed tomography (CT) imaging of the right leg to rule out an arterial clot. CT imaging revealed two... Read More

Leilani Schweitzer | November 16, 2022

A 58-year-old man underwent a complex surgery to replace his aortic value. The surgery required prolonged cardiopulmonary bypass time and cross-clamp time and there was a short delay in redosing the cardioplegic solution and the patient developed ... Read More

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 (24)

Displaying 1 - 20 of 24 WebM&M Case Studies
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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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.
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.
Jeffrey Jim, MD, MPHS| August 1, 2018
An older man with multiple medical conditions and an extensive smoking history was admitted to the hospital with worsening shortness of breath. He underwent transthoracic echocardiogram, which demonstrated severe aortic stenosis. The cardiology team recommended cardiac catheterization, but the interventional cardiologist could not advance the catheter and an aortogram revealed an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) measuring 9 cm in diameter. Despite annual visits to his primary care physician, he had never undergone screening ultrasound to assess for presence of an AAA. The patient was sent emergently for surgical repair but had a complicated surgical course.
Ashish C. Sinha, MD, PhD| August 21, 2013
Following general anesthesia for hip repair surgery, an elderly woman with a history of hypertension and obesity developed hypercarbic respiratory failure and was reintubated in the recovery unit. Providers felt the patient had undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea and questioned whether obese patients undergoing anesthesia should receive formal preoperative screening for it.
Nicholas Symons, MBChB, MSc| August 21, 2013
An elderly woman with severe abdominal pain was admitted for an emergency laparotomy for presumed small bowel obstruction. Shortly after induction of anesthesia, her heart stopped. She was resuscitated and transferred to the intensive care unit, where she died the next morning. The review committee felt this case represented a diagnostic error, which led to unnecessary surgery and a preventable death.
John Starling III, MD| March 1, 2012
Following biopsies for two skin lesions on his left cheek, a patient was sent to an outside surgeon for excision of squamous cell carcinoma. Although the referral included a description and diagram, the wrong lesion was removed.
Kevin C. Huoh, MD; Kristina W. Rosbe, MD| June 1, 2011
A healthy child underwent tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Extubated after an uneventful surgery, within an hour the child became hypoxic and unable to breathe spontaneously, requiring reintubation.
Edward A. Bittner, MD, PhD| February 1, 2011
Following elective anterior cervical discectomy, a patient developed tightness and swelling in his neck. Later, the patient stood up, turned blue, and fell to the floor unconscious. An obvious neck hematoma was compromising his airway, and the patient required an emergency tracheostomy and CPR.
David L. Feldman, MD, MBA| May 1, 2008
Prior to surgery, an anesthesiologist and surgical physician assistant noted a patient's allergy to IV contrast dye, but no order was written. During a time out before the procedure, an operative nurse raised concern about the allergy, but the attending anesthesiologist was not present and the resident did not speak up.
Richard A. Smith, DDS| August 21, 2007
A patient underwent tooth extraction, but awoke from anesthesia and found that the wrong two teeth had been removed.
B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD| March 1, 2007
Several days after a patient’s surgery, preliminary wound cultures grew Staphylococcus aureus. Although the final sensitivity profile for the cultures showed resistance to the antibiotic that the patient was receiving, the care team was not notified and the patient died of sepsis.
Angela C. Joseph, RN, MSN, CURN| November 1, 2006
Following elective surgery, a man with benign prostatic hypertrophy began having trouble with urination. Delay in addressing this issue caused discomfort and the need for catheterization and antibiotics.
Elizabeth A. Howell, MD, MPP; Mark R. Chassin, MD, MPP, MPH| May 1, 2006
A woman with a fractured right foot receives spinal anesthesia and nearly has surgery for trimalleolar fracture and dislocation of the left ankle. Only immediately prior to surgery did the team realize that the x-ray was not hers.
James A. Yates, MD| March 1, 2006
A man undergoes plastic surgery at an outpatient center and winds up with a complication requiring prolonged stay in the ICU.
Todd Sagin, MD, JD| March 1, 2006
Despite formal investigation of complications in past cases, a senior surgeon is still allowed to operate on a patient, with disastrous results.
Nils Kucher, MD| January 1, 2006
Following reconstructive surgery to her hand, a woman suffers sudden cardiopulmonary arrest. After successful resuscitation, further review revealed that she had a pulmonary embolism and that she had received no venous thromboembolism prophylaxis.
Lorri A. Lee, MD| June 1, 2005
A woman undergoes surgery and immediately has blurry vision, mistakenly attributed to ointment. Two weeks later, she returns complaining of blindness in one eye.
Tracy Minichiello, MD| March 1, 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.
Stephen G. Pauker, MD; Susan P. Pauker, MD| May 1, 2004
Owing to privacy concerns, a nurse draws the drapes on a 3-year-old child in recovery following surgery, and unfortunately does not realize the child is in distress until loud inspiratory stridor is heard.