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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 (25)

1 - 20 of 25 WebM&M Case Studies
Karen Semkiw, RN-C, MPA, Dua Anderson, MD, MS, and JoAnne Natale, MD, PhD | December 23, 2020

 A 3-month-old male infant, born at 26 weeks’ gestation with a history of bowel resection and anastomosis due to necrotizing enterocolitis, was readmitted for abdominal distension and constipation. He was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for management of severe sepsis and an urgent exploratory laparotomy was scheduled for suspected obstruction. The PICU team determined that the patient was stable for brief transport from the PICU to the operating room (OR). During intrahospital transport, the patient had two bradycardic episodes – the first self-resolved but the second necessitated chest compressions and intubation. The patient was rapidly moved to the OR where return of spontaneous circulation occurred within five minutes. The associated commentary describes the risks associated with intrahospital transport (particularly among pediatric patients) and critical processes that should be put in place to mitigate these risks via clear communication and structured decision-making among the intrahospital transport team. 

By Gary S. Leiserowitz, MD, MS and Herman Hedriana, MD| November 25, 2020

After a failed induction at 36 weeks, a 26-year-old woman underwent cesarean delivery which was complicated by significant postpartum hemorrhage. The next day, the patient complained of severe perineal and abdominal pain, which the obstetric team attributed to prolonged pushing during labor. The team was primarily concerned about hypotension, which was thought to be due to hypovolemia from peri-operative blood loss. After several hours, the patient was transferred to the medical intensive care unit (ICU) with persistent hypotension and severe abdominal and perineal pain. She underwent surgery for suspected necrotizing fasciitis, but necrosis was not found. The patient returned to the surgical ICU but deteriorated; she returned to the operating room, where she was found to have necrotizing soft tissue infection, including in the flanks, labia, and uterus. She underwent extensive surgery followed by a lengthy hospital stay. The accompanying commentary discusses the contribution of knowledge deficits and cognitive biases to diagnostic errors and the importance of structured communications between professionals.

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.
An intern night float, called in on jeopardy from an outside institution for an intern who was ill, was paged to the bedside of an unstable patient to assess his condition. In the electronic health record, the intern checked the code status and clinical information, but the signout did not specify the patient’s goals of care nor what course of action to take should the patient worsen. Although the patient was listed as full code and the intern attempted to reach both the rapid response team and the senior resident, she was not aware the pager numbers were incorrect. Eventually, the intern flagged a senior resident passing in the hallway, who assessed the patient and suggested they contact his family.
Allan S. Frankel, MD; Kathryn C. Adair, PhD; and J. Bryan Sexton, PhD| June 1, 2019
A proceduralist went to perform ultrasound and thoracentesis on an elderly man admitted to the medicine service with bilateral pleural effusions. Unfortunately, he scanned the wrong patient (the patient had the same last name and was in the room next door). When the patient care assistant notified the physician of the error, he proceeded to scan the correct patient. He later nominated the assistant for a Stand Up for Safety Award.
Audrey Lyndon, PhD, RN, and Stephanie Lim, MD| June 1, 2019
During surgery for a forearm fracture, a woman experienced a drop in heart rate to below 50 beats per minute. As the consultant anesthesiologist had stepped out to care for another patient, the resident asked the technician to draw up atropine for the patient. When the technician returned with an unlabeled syringe without the medication vial, the resident was reluctant to administer the medication, but did so without a double check after the technician insisted it was atropine. Over the next few minutes, the patient's blood pressure spiked to 250/135 mm Hg.
Timothy R. Kreider, MD, PhD, and John Q. Young, MD, MPP, PhD| January 1, 2019
A woman with a history of psychiatric illness presented to the emergency department with agitation, hallucinations, tachycardia, and transient hypoxia. The consulting psychiatric resident attributed the tachycardia and hypoxia to her underlying agitation and admitted her to an inpatient psychiatric facility. Over the next few days, her tachycardia persisted and continued to be attributed to her psychiatric disease. On hospital day 5, the patient was found unresponsive and febrile, with worsening tachycardia, tachypnea, and hypoxia; she had diffuse myoclonus and increased muscle tone. She was transferred to the ICU of the hospital, where a chest CT scan revealed bilateral pulmonary emboli (explaining the tachycardia and hypoxia), and clinicians also diagnosed neuroleptic malignant syndrome (a rare and life-threatening reaction to some psychiatric medications).
Mark W. Scerbo, PhD, and Alfred Z. Abuhamad, MD| January 1, 2015
A woman who had an uncomplicated pregnancy and normal labor with no apparent signs of distress delivered a cyanotic, flaccid infant requiring extensive resuscitation. Although fetal heart rate tracings had shown signs of moderate-to-severe fetal distress for 90 minutes prior to delivery, clinicians did not notice the abnormalities on the remote centralized monitor, which displayed 16 windows, each for a different patient.
Amy A. Vogelsmeier, PhD, RN| September 1, 2011
Following surgical repair for a hip fracture, a nursing home resident with limited mobility developed a fever. She was readmitted to the hospital, where examination revealed a very deep pressure ulcer. Despite maximal efforts, the patient developed septic shock and died.
Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH; Dean F. Sittig, PhD; Maureen Layden, MD, MPH| November 1, 2010
At two different hospitals, patients were instructed to continue home medications, even though their medication lists had errors that could have led to significant adverse consequences.
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.
Jill R. Scott-Cawiezell, RN, PhD| July 1, 2008
An elderly man receiving feedings through a percutaneous enterostomy tube was prescribed intravenous total parenteral nutrition (TPN). A licensed practical nurse (LPN) mistakenly connected the TPN to the patient's enterostomy tube. His daughter (a retired nurse) asked her about it, and the RN on duty confirmed the error. The LPN disconnected the mistakenly placed (and now contaminated) line, but then prepared to attach it to the intravenous catheter. Luckily, both the patient's daughter and the RN were present and stopped her.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Christopher Beach, MD| February 1, 2006
A woman comes to the ED with mental status changes. Although numerous tests are run and she is admitted, a critical test result fails to reach the medicine team in time to save the patient's life.
Dennis S. O'Leary, MD; William E. Jacott, MD| December 1, 2004
Despite a "time out" and having his leg marked by the surgeon, a patient comes perilously close to having surgery on the wrong leg.
Ann Williamson, PhD, RN| May 1, 2004
An antenatal room left in disarray causes a charge nurse to search for the missing patient. Investigation reveals that a resident had performed an ultrasound on a nurse friend rather than a true "patient."