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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 valve. 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 (36)

Displaying 1 - 20 of 36 WebM&M Case Studies

This case involves a 2-year-old girl with acute myelogenous leukemia and thrombocytopenia (platelet count 26,000 per microliter) who underwent implantation of a central venous catheter with a subcutaneous port. The anesthetist asked the surgeon to order a platelet transfusion to increase the child’s platelet count to above 50,000 per microliter. In the post-anesthesia care unit, the patient’s arterial blood pressure started fluctuating and she developed cardiac arrest. A “code blue” was called and the child was successfully resuscitated after insertion of a thoracostomy drainage (chest) tube. Unfortunately, the surgeon damaged an intercostal artery when he inserted the chest tube emergently, which caused further bleeding and two additional episodes of PEA arrest. This commentary addresses the importance of mitigating risk during procedures, balancing education of proceduralist trainees with risk to the patient, and prompt review of diagnostic studies by qualified individuals to identify serious complications.

A seven-year-old girl with esophageal stenosis underwent upper endoscopy with esophageal dilation under general anesthesia. During the procedure, she was fully monitored with a continuous arterial oxygen saturation probe, heart rate monitors, two-lead electrocardiography, continuous capnography, and non-invasive arterial blood pressure measurements. The attending gastroenterologist and endoscopist were serially dilating the esophagus with larger and larger rigid dilators when the patient suddenly developed hypotension. She was immediately given a fluid bolus, phenylephrine, and 100% oxygen but still developed cardiac arrest. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was initiated with cardiac massage, but she could not be resuscitated and died. This commentary highlights the role of communication between providers, necessary technical steps to mitigate the risks of upper endoscopy in children, and the importance of education and training for care team members.

Sierra Rayne Young, Pharm.D. and Iris Chen, Pharm.D., BCPS| November 27, 2019
Three patients were at the same hospital over the course of a few months for vascular access device (VAD) placement and experienced adverse outcomes. The adverse outcomes of two of them were secondary to drugs given for sedation, while the third patient’s situation was somewhat different. Vascular access procedures are extremely common and are relatively short but may require the use of procedural sedation, which is usually very well tolerated but can involve significant risk, as these cases illustrate.
Deborah Debono, PhD, RN, and Tracy Levett-Jones, PhD, RN| July 1, 2018
A young adult with a progressive neurological disorder presented to an emergency department from a nursing home with a dislodged GJ tube. As a workaround to maintain patency when the GJ tube was dislodged, nursing home staff had inserted a Foley catheter into the ostomy, inflated the Foley bulb in the stomach, and tied the distal portion of the catheter in a loose knot. When the patient went to interventional radiology for new GJ tube placement, clinicians found no Foley but inserted a new GJ tube. Discharged to the nursing home, the patient was readmitted 2 days later with fever and increasing abdominal distention. An abdominal CT scan showed an obstructing foreign body in the small bowel.
Nancy Staggers, PhD, RN| October 1, 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 1, 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.
Sonya P. Mehta, MD, MHS, and Karen B. Domino, MD, MPH| April 1, 2015
During laparoscopic subtotal colon resection for adenocarcinoma, a patient's bladder was accidentally lacerated and surgeons repaired it without difficulty. As nurses set up bladder irrigation equipment, no one noticed the bag of solution was dripping into the power supply of an anesthesiology monitor. Suddenly sparks and flames began shooting from the monitor, and the OR filled with black smoke. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished quickly and neither the patient nor any OR staff was injured.
William Martinez, MD, MS, and Gerald B. Hickson, MD| March 1, 2014
Hospitalized 3 times within 2 months presumably for sepsis, a woman with diabetes on metformin presented to the emergency department with the same set of symptoms as her previous admissions. After reviewing her records, the admitting team determined that the patient's presentation for this and earlier admissions was more consistent with acute lactic acidosis secondary to metformin than sepsis.
Roy Ilan, MD, MSc| May 1, 2013
A woman was emergently admitted for surgery for acute appendicitis. Although the patient had a chest port for breast cancer chemotherapy, the surgeon demanded that a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) be placed. The patient developed blood clots from the PICC, and surgery was cancelled. Significant complications, including perforation, peritonitis, and prolonged hospitalization, arose from managing the appendicitis conservatively.
Thomas H. Gallagher, MD| May 1, 2011
Transferred to a tertiary hospital, a child with severe swelling of the brain is found to have venous sinus thromboses and little chance of survival. Further review revealed that the referring hospital had missed subtle signs of cerebral edema on the initial CT scan days earlier, raising the question of whether to disclose the errors of other facilities or caregivers.
Beth Devine, PharmD, MBA, PhD| April 1, 2010
A medication dispensing error causes nausea, sweating, and irregular heartbeat in an elderly man with a history of cardiac arrhythmia. Investigation reveals that the patient was given thyroid replacement medication instead of antiarrhythmic medication.
Robert J. Weber, PharmD, MS| February 1, 2010
An elderly woman presented to the emergency department following a hip fracture. Although the patient's medication bottles were used to generate a medication list, one of the dosages was transcribed incorrectly. Because the patient then received four times her regular dose, her surgery was delayed due to cardiac side effects.
Hedy Cohen, RN, BSN, MS| March 21, 2009
New medication administration policies at one hospital cause a patient to receive two doses of her daily medication within a few hours, when only one dose was intended.
Head imaging findings for a man admitted following new-onset headaches and a seizure revealed a brain mass. The patient was sent for craniotomy and brain biopsy, which revealed toxoplasmosis, prompting an HIV test that returned positive.
Colin P. West, MD, PhD| January 1, 2008
An elderly man with COPD and end-stage congestive heart failure was admitted for increasing shortness of breath, due to a pleural effusion. A resident performed a thoracentesis on the wrong side, and the patient developed a pneumothorax and died. The resident disclosed the error but was devastated.
F. Daniel Duffy, MD; Christine K. Cassel, MD| October 1, 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.
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.
Patrice L. Spath, BA, RHIT| March 1, 2007
An infant receives an overdose of the wrong antibiotic (cephazolin instead of ceftriaxone). The nurse spoke with the ED physician on duty but was informed that the medications were essentially equivalent and did not report the error.
Saul N. Weingart, MD, PhD| August 1, 2006
In the office, a man with diabetes has high blood sugar, and the nurse practitioner orders insulin. After administration, she discovers that she has injected the insulin with a tuberculin syringe rather than an insulin syringe, resulting in a 10-fold overdose.
Hildy Schell, RN, MS, CCNS; Robert M. Wachter, MD| July 1, 2006
An elderly woman was transported to CT with no medical escort and an inadequate oxygen supply. She died later that day.