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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 (49)

1 - 20 of 49 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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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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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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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.
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.
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.
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.
Daniel J. Morgan, MD, MS, and Andrew Foy, MD| March 1, 2017
Brought to the emergency department from a nursing facility with confusion and generalized weakness, an older woman was found to have an elevated troponin level but no evidence of ischemia on her ECG. A consulting cardiologist recommended treating the patient with three anticoagulants. The next evening, she became acutely confused and a CT scan revealed a large intraparenchymal hemorrhage with a midline shift.
Kevin M. Barrett, MD, MSc| December 1, 2014
An elderly man admitted for a presumed hypertensive emergency and undiagnosed neurologic symptoms became unresponsive and was noted to have new right hand weakness 2 days into his hospitalization. After a "Code Stroke" was called, a neurologist evaluated him and administered tPA 100 minutes after the acute event. A few hours later, the patient developed further symptoms, and an emergent head CT demonstrated post-tPA intracerebral hemorrhage.
Shoshana J. Herzig, MD, MPH| September 1, 2014
Hospitalized for foot amputation, a man with COPD and chronic pain on long-acting morphine experienced post-operative pain and severe muscle spasms. After being given hydromorphone, morphine, and diazepam, the patient became minimally responsive and a code blue was called.
Terence Goh, MBBS, and Lee Gan Goh, MBBS| August 21, 2014
Admitted with bruising from a fall and persistent pain on his left side, a patient was kept in the emergency department overnight due to crowding. After being reevaluated by the surgical service the next day, the patient was urgently taken to the operating room for probable necrotizing fasciitis and pyomysitis.
John Betjemann, MD, and S. Andrew Josephson, MD| April 1, 2014
Despite new back pain and worsening symptoms of tingling, pain, and weakness bilaterally, in both hands and feet, a man recently diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy was not sent for further testing after repeated visits to a primary care clinic. By the time neurologists saw him, they diagnosed critical cervical cord compression, which placed the patient at risk for permanent paralysis.
Annie Yang, PharmD, BCPS| February 1, 2014
Despite multiple checks by physician, pharmacist, and nurse during the medication ordering, dispensing, and administration processes, a patient received a 10-fold overdose of an opioid medication and a code blue was called.
Margaret C. Fang, MD, MPH| December 1, 2013
Two days after knee replacement surgery, a woman with a history of deep venous thrombosis receiving pain control via epidural catheter was restarted on her outpatient dose of rivaroxaban (a newer oral anticoagulant). Although the pain service fellow scanned the medication list for traditional anticoagulants, he did not notice the patient was taking rivaroxaban before removing the epidural catheter, placing the patient at very high risk for bleeding.
Laxmaiah Manchikanti, MD, and Joshua A. Hirsch, MD| September 1, 2013
Hospitalized for pneumonia and asthma, a man with chronic pain was found to be using pain medications not prescribed to him. During his hospitalization, the pain service was consulted and changed his medications to better control the pain. Five days after discharge, the patient died, presumably from an unintentional overdose of his old and new prescriptions.
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.
Joseph I. Boullata, PharmD, RPh, BCNSP| April 1, 2013
A 3-year-old boy hospitalized with anemia who was on chronic total parenteral nutrition was given an admixture with a level of sodium 10-fold higher than intended. Despite numerous warnings and checks along the way, the error still reached the patient.
Alex A. Balekian, MD, MSHS, and Michael K. Gould, MD, MS| December 1, 2012
At his first visit with a new physician, a man with a "spot" on his lung reported being followed with CT scans every 6–12 months for 8 years. In total, the patient had more than 20 CT scans.
Manish S. Patel, MD, and Jeffrey L. Carson, MD| November 1, 2012
At a skilled nursing facility, an elderly woman with myelodysplastic syndrome was found to be mildly anemic, and her oncologist arranged for her to be sent to the hospital and transfused with 2 units of blood. Less than 1 hour after the second unit of blood finished transfusing, the patient rapidly worsened and had a respiratory arrest.
A teenage athlete noticed what he thought was an insect bite on his buttock, but only mentioned it to his mother a few days later, when it was much worse. Four days after his pediatrician prescribed antibiotics for CA-MRSA, the boy wound up hospitalized with complications from CA-MRSA, including acute renal failure, respiratory failure, and osteomyelitis of the femur head requiring total hip replacement.