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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: December 14, 2022
Narath Carlile, MD, MPH, Clyde Lanford Smith, MD, MPH, DTM&H, James H. Maguire, MD, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD | December 14, 2022

This case describes a man in his 70s with a history of multiple myeloma and multiple healthcare encounters for diarrhea in the previous five years, which had always been attributed to viral or unknown causes, without any microbiologic or serologic... Read More

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Naileshni S. Singh, MD | December 14, 2022

A 63-year-old woman was admitted to a hospital for anterior cervical discectomy (levels C4-C7) and plating for cervical spinal stenosis under general anesthesia. The operation was uneventful and intraoperative neuromonitoring was used to help prevent... Read More

Mark Fedyk, PhD, Nathan Fairman, MD, MPH, Patrick S. Romano, MD, MPH, John MacMillan, MD, and Monica Miller, RN, MS, CCRN | December 14, 2022

A 65-year-old man with metastatic liver disease presented to the hospital with worsening abdominal pain after a partial hepatectomy and development of a large ventral hernia. Imaging studies revealed perforated diverticulitis. A goals-of-care... 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 (47)

Published Date
PSNet Publication Date
Displaying 1 - 20 of 47 WebM&M Case Studies
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 arterial thromboses the right lower extremity and an echocardiogram revealed a thrombus near the prosthetic heart valve. The attending physician ordered discontinuation of warfarin and initiation of a heparin drip. On hospital day 3, the patient’s right leg became discolored and cold, but the healthcare team insisted that she was being treated appropriately; two days later, the patient complained of pain, additional discoloration, and her toes appeared to be turning black. The patient was taken to the Operating Room (OR) to remove the arterial thrombus, but a more extensive operation was needed to restore arterial blood flow. The commentary summarizes the signs of acute limb ischemia and appropriate approaches to prevent and manage arterial thrombosis, particularly among patients on anticoagulants.

Carla S. Martin, MSN, RN, CIC, CNL, NEA-BC, FACHE, Shannon K. Reese, BSN, RN, VABC, and Margaret Brown-McManus, MSN, RN, CNL | September 28, 2022

This case describes a 20-year-old woman was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and occlusive thrombus in the right brachial vein surrounding a  peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line (type, gauge, and length of time the PICC had been in place were not noted). The patient was discharged home but was not given any supplies for cleaning the PICC line, education regarding the signs of PICC line infection, or referral to home health services. During follow-up several days after discharge, the patient’s primary care provider noted that the PICC dressing was due to be changed and needed to be flushed, but the outpatient setting lacked the necessary supplies. An urgent referral to home health was placed, but the agency would be unable to attend to the patient for several days. The primary care provider changed the dressing, and the patient was referred to the emergency department for assessment. The commentary summarizes the risks of PICC lines, the role of infection prevention practices during the insertion and care of PICC lines, and the importance of patient education and skill assessment prior to discharge home with a PICC line.

Commentary by Jennifer Rosenthal, MD, MAS and Michelle Hamline, MD, PhD, MAS| August 31, 2022

A 2-year-old girl presented to her pediatrician with a cough, runny nose, low grade fever and fatigue; a nasal swab for SARS-CoV-2 and influenza was negative and lung sounds were clear. The patient developed a fever and labored breathing and was taken to the Emergency Department (ED) before being admitted to the hospital. She developed respiratory distress and clinically worsened over time until she developed respiratory failure requiring air transportation to the pediatric intensive care unit at a children’s hospital. She was ultimately diagnosed with adenovirus after developing conjunctivitis and bronchiolitis. After 3 days of continuous monitoring and treatment in the PICU, the patient was alert, responsive, and hungry. She was taken off supplemental oxygen after about 24 more hours, transferred to a regular pediatric bed, and then discharged to outpatient follow-up care. The commentary addresses patient safety risks associated with pediatric interfacility transfers and strategies to mitigate preventable harms due to poor provider-provider communication, provider-family communication, and family engagement.

Anamaria Robles, MD, and Garth Utter, MD, MSc | August 31, 2022

A 49-year-old woman was referred by per primary care physician (PCP) to a gastroenterologist for recurrent bouts of abdominal pain, occasional vomiting, and diarrhea. Colonoscopy, esophagogastroduodenoscopy, and x-rays were interpreted as normal, and the patient was reassured that her symptoms should abate. The patient was seen by her PCP and visited the Emergency Department (ED) several times over the next six months. At each ED visit, the patient’s labs were normal and no imaging was performed. A second gastroenterologist suggested a diagnosis of intestinal ischemia to the patient, her primary gastroenterologist, her PCP, and endocrinologist but the other physicians did not follow up on the possibility of mesenteric ischemia. On another ED visit, the second gastroenterologist consulted a surgeon, and a mesenteric angiogram was performed, confirming a diagnosis of mesenteric ischemia with gangrenous intestines. The patient underwent near-total intestinal resection, developed post-operative infections requiring additional operations, experienced cachexia despite parenteral nutrition, and died of sepsis 3 months later.  The commentary discusses the importance of early diagnosis of mesenteric ischemia and how to prevent diagnostic errors that can impede early identification and treatment.

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Garima Agrawal, MD, MPH, Pouria Kashkouli, MD, MS, and and Deb Bakerjian PhD, APRN, FAAN, FAANP, FGSA| July 8, 2022

This WebM&M describes a 78-year-old veteran with dementia-associated aggressive behavior who was hospitalized multiple times over several months for hypoxic respiratory failure and atrial fibrillation before being discharged to a skilled nursing facility. The advanced care planning team, in consultation with palliative care and ethics experts, determined that transition to hospice was appropriate. However, these recommendations were verbally communicated and not documented in the chart. The patient developed acute hypoxic respiratory failure the night prior to the planned transition to hospice, was re-admitted to the hospital, and passed away three weeks later at the hospital. The commentary discusses the importance of well-coordinated transitions of care and the importance of active communication and standardized documentation during palliative care transitions.

Alexandria DePew, MSN, RN, James Rice, & Julie Chou, BSN | May 16, 2022

This WebM&M describes two incidences of the incorrect patient being transported from the Emergency Department (ED) to other parts of the hospital for tests or procedures. In one case, the wrong patient was identified before undergoing an unnecessary procedure; in the second case, the wrong patient received an unnecessary chest x-ray. The commentary highlights the consequences of patient transport errors and strategies to enhance the safety of patient transport and prevent transport-related errors.

Katrina Pasao, MD and Pouria Kashkouli, MD, MS | March 31, 2022

This Spotlight Case describes an older man incidentally diagnosed with prostate cancer, with metastases to the bone. He was seen in clinic one month after that discharge, without family present, and scheduled for outpatient biopsy. He showed up to the biopsy without adequate preparation and so it was rescheduled. He did not show up to the following four oncology appointments. Over the course of the following year, the patient’s son and daughter were contacted at various points to re-establish care, but he continued to miss scheduled appointments and treatments. During a hospital admission, a palliative care team determined that the patient did not have capacity to make complex medical decisions. He was discharged to a skilled nursing facility, and then to a board and care when he failed to improve. He missed two more oncology appointments before being admitted with cancer-related pain. Based on the patient’s poor functional status, he was not considered a candidate for additional therapy. After a discussion of goals of care with the patient and daughter, he was enrolled in hospice. The commentary outlines key elements for assessing patient capacity, the importance of understanding the patient’s psychosocial history, and strategies to strengthen psychosocial training for medical and nursing trainees.

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A 52-year-old man complaining of intermittent left shoulder pain for several years was diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury and underwent left shoulder surgery. The patient received a routine follow-up X-ray four months later. The radiologist interpreted the film as normal but noted a soft tissue density in the chest and advised a follow-up chest X-ray for further evaluation. Although the radiologist’s report was sent to the orthopedic surgeon’s office, the surgeon independently read and interpreted the same images and did not note the soft tissue density or order any follow-up studies. Several months later, the patient’s primary care provider ordered further evaluation and lung cancer was diagnosed. The commentary discusses how miscommunication contributes to delays in diagnosis and treatment and strategies to facilitate effective communication between radiologists and referring clinicians.  

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Rebecca K. Krisman, MD, MPH and Hannah Spero, MSN, APRN, NP-C | December 23, 2020

A 65-year-old man with metastatic cancer and past medical history of schizophrenia, developmental delay, and COPD was admitted to the hospital with a spinal fracture. He experienced postoperative complications and continued to require intermittent oxygen and BIPAP in the intensive care unit (ICU) to maintain oxygenation. Upon consultation with the palliative care team about goals of care, the patient with telephonic support of his long time caregiver, expressed his wish to go home and the palliative care team, discharge planner, and social services coordinated plans for transfer home. Although no timeline for the transfer had been established, the patient’s code status was changed to “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) with a plan for him to remain in the ICU for a few days to stabilize. Unfortunately, the patient was transferred out of the ICU after the palliative care team left for the weekend and his respiratory status deteriorated. The patient died in the hospital later that week; he was never able to go home as he had wished. The associated commentary describes how care inconsistent with patient goals and wishes is a form of preventable harm, discusses the need for clear communication between care team, and the importance of providers and healthcare team members serving as advocates for their vulnerable patients.

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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.
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.
Stephanie Mueller, MD, MPH| February 1, 2019
To transfer a man with possible sepsis to a hospital with subspecialty and critical care, a physician was unaware of a formal protocol and called a colleague at the academic medical center. The colleague secured a bed, and the patient was sent over. However, neither clinical data nor the details of the patient's current condition were transmitted to the hospital's transfer center, and the receiving physician booked a general ward bed rather than an ICU bed. When the patient arrived, his mentation was altered and breathing was rapid. The nurse called the rapid response team, but the patient went into cardiac arrest.
Kheyandra Lewis, MD, and Glenn Rosenbluth, MD| November 1, 2018
Early in the academic year, interns were on their first day of a rotation caring for an elderly man hospitalized for a stroke, who had developed aspiration pneumonia and hypernatremia. When the primary intern signed out to the cross-cover intern, he asked her to check the patient's sodium level and replete the patient with IV fluids if needed. Although the cross-covering intern asked for more clarification, the intern signing out assured her the printed, written signout had all the information needed. Later that evening, the patient's sodium returned at a level above which the written signout stated to administer IV fluids, and after reviewing the plan with the supervising resident, the intern ordered them. The next morning the primary team was surprised, stating that the plan had been to give fluids only if the patient was definitely hypernatremic. Confused, the cross-cover intern pointed out the written signout instructions. On further review, the primary intern realized he had printed out the previous day's signout, which had not been updated with the new plan.
Wendy G. Anderson, MD, MS| February 1, 2012
An elderly man hospitalized with multiple medical conditions decided (with his family's blessing) on a DNR/DNI order. Following treatment, the patient was discharged home. Just days later a paramedic transporting the patient to the emergency department asked the family about advanced directives and they requested that "everything be done."
Ben-Tzion Karsh, PhD| March 1, 2011
A patient requiring orthopedic follow-up after an emergency department visit missed his appointment, and a secretary canceled the referral in the electronic medical record to minimize black marks on the hospital’s 30-day referral quality scorecard. Because the primary physician did not receive notice of the cancellation, follow-up was delayed.
Christopher Fee, MD| March 21, 2009
Interrupted during a telephone handoff, an ED physician, despite limited information, must treat a patient in respiratory arrest. The patient is stabilized and transferred to the ICU with a presumed diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia and septic shock. Later, ICU physicians obtain further history that leads to the correct diagnosis: pulmonary embolism.
Emily S. Patterson, PhD| November 1, 2008
Due to lack of communication during shift change, an infant's transfer to a higher level of care is delayed. The infant develops respiratory distress, prompting a call to the rapid response team and transfer to the ICU.
Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH| October 1, 2008
An elderly, non–English-speaking man with diabetes was admitted to the hospital twice in 8 days due to hypoglycemia. At discharge, the patient was instructed not to take any antidiabetic medications. In between hospitalizations, he saw his primary care physician, who restarted an antidiabetic medication.
Nita S. Kulkarni, MD; Mark V. Williams, MD| May 1, 2008
An elderly patient seen in his primary care physician's office was stable but had a suspected heart failure exacerbation. The PCP chose to admit the patient directly to the hospital, to avoid a long emergency department stay. While in the admitting office awaiting an available bed, the patient deteriorated.
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.