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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 (30)

1 - 20 of 30 WebM&M Case Studies
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.

A 61-year-old male was admitted for a right total knee replacement under regional anesthesia. The surgeon – unaware that the anesthesiologist had already performed a right femoral nerve block with 20 ml (100mg) of 0.5% racemic bupivacaine for postoperative analgesia – also infiltrated the arthroplasty wound with 200 mg of ropivacaine. The patient was sedated with an infusion of propofol throughout the procedure. At the end of the procedure, after stopping the propofol infusion, the patient remained unresponsive, and the anesthesiologist diagnosed the patient with Local Anesthetic Systemic Toxicity (LAST). The commentary addresses the symptoms of LAST, the importance of adhering to local anesthetic dosing guidelines, and the essential role of effective communication between operating room team members.

Voltaire R Sinigayan, MD, FACP| January 29, 2021

A 55-year-old man undergoing chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia was admitted to the hospital with a fever, neutropenia, and thrombocytopenia but physical examination did not reveal a focal site of infection. Blood and urine cultures were obtained, and he was started on IV antibiotics. His fever persisted and the cross-covering physician, following sign-out instructions from the primary team, requested repeat blood cultures but did not evaluate the patient in person. During rounds the next morning, the patient reported new oral pain (which had begun the previous day) and on physical exam was found to have mucositis. The associated commentary discusses the importance of in-person assessment in the hospital setting during cross-coverage and the value of structured, validated hand-off tools for communication among multidisciplinary teams.

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. 

Benjamin Stripe, MD, FACC, FSCAI and Dahlia Zuidema, Pharm.D, BC-ADM, CDCES | September 30, 2020

A 44-year old man with hypertension and diabetes was admitted with an open wound on the ball of his right foot that could be probed to the bone and evidence of diabetic ketoacidosis. Over the course of the hospitalization, he had ongoing hypokalemia, low magnesium levels, an electrocardiogram showing a prolonged QT interval, ultimately leading to cardiac arrest due to torsades de pointes (an unusual form of ventricular tachycardia that can be fatal if left untreated). The commentary discusses the use of protocol-based management of chronic medical conditions, the inclusion of interprofessional care teams to coordinate management, and the importance of inter-team communication to identify issues and prevent poor outcomes. 

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Emily L. Aaronson, MD, MPH, and Christopher Kabrhel, MD, MPH| May 1, 2019
Following catheter-guided thrombolysis for a large saddle pulmonary embolism, a man was monitored in the intensive care unit. The catheters were removed the next day, and the patient was sent from the interventional radiology suite to the postanesthesia care unit, after which he was transferred to a telemetry bed on the stepdown unit. No explicit plan for anticoagulation was discussed with the accepting medical team. Shortly after the nurse found the patient lethargic, tachycardic, and hypoxic, the patient lost his pulse and a code was called.
by Kristin E. Sandau, PhD, RN, and Marjorie Funk, PhD, RN| April 1, 2019
An elderly woman with a history of dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, and congestive heart failure (CHF) was brought to the emergency department and found to meet criteria for sepsis. Due to her CHF, she was admitted to a unit with telemetry monitoring, which at this institution was performed remotely. When the nurse came to check the patient's vital signs several hours later, she found the patient to be unresponsive and apneic, with no palpable pulse. A Code Blue was called, but the patient died. Although the telemetry technician had recognized progressive bradycardia and called the hospital floor several minutes before the code, he was placed on hold because the nurse was busy with another patient. While he was holding, he observed worsening bradycardia, eventually transitioning to asystole, and tried to redial the unit, but no one answered.
Patricia C. Dykes, PhD, RN; Wai Yin Leung, MS; and Vincent Vacca, RN, MSN| May 1, 2016
Multiple alarms went off in an ICU room after an intern and resident performed paracentesis on an older patient. Nurses found the patient confused and trying to get out of bed. She had pulled out her nasogastric and endotracheal tubes, her leg was stuck in the bedrails, and she had a large cut on her foot.
An elderly woman with a history of dementia underwent surgical resection of new colon cancer, which relieved a bowel obstruction. She developed acute delirium postoperatively, and the team discovered they had neglected to capture her cholinesterase inhibitor patch (a medication for dementia) in the official medication reconciliation list.
Nancy Moureau, BSN, RN, CRNI, CPUI, VA-BC| December 1, 2012
A woman undergoing treatment for myasthenia gravis via PICC developed extensive catheter-related thrombosis, bacteremia, and sepsis, and ultimately died. Although the PICC line was placed at one facility, the patient was receiving treatment at another, raising questions about who had responsibility for the line.
Rita Redberg, MD, MSc| December 1, 2011
A patient with Guillain-Barré syndrome received more than the recommended number of plasmapheresis treatments. When the ordering physicians were asked why so many treatments were given, they both responded that the patient was improving so they felt that more treatments would help him recover even more.
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.
Marlene Miller, MD, MSc | March 1, 2011
Providers caring for an infant admitted with a viral infection and history of congenital heart disease failed to appreciate the significance of his low intake and output. The infant developed severe hypoglycemia and dehydration, and wound up in the pediatric intensive care unit.
Annie Wong-Beringer, PharmD| December 1, 2010
A patient on palliative chemotherapy was given intravenous vancomycin for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), despite a rising creatinine level, and went into acute kidney failure.
Chase Coffey, MD, MS| November 1, 2010
A man returns to the emergency department 11 days after hospital discharge in worsening condition. With no follow-up on a urine culture and sensitivity sent during his hospitalization, the patient had been taking the wrong antibiotic for a UTI.
José R. Maldonado, MD| October 1, 2010
A man prescribed a tricyclic antidepressant and an antipsychotic medication was found unconscious and unresponsive at home and was brought to the emergency department (ED). An electrocardiogram showed potentially dangerous heart rhythms.
Gurpreet Dhaliwal, MD| December 1, 2009
Physicians confuse the terminology on a preliminary radiology report and diagnose a woman with foot and ankle pain as having a low-risk case of superficial vein thrombosis, rather than the more dangerous deep vein thrombosis she actually had.
Christopher R. Lee, MD| October 1, 2009
Following surgery for peripheral vascular disease, a patient otherwise ready for discharge complains of liquid shooting from his nose. The surgeons make the patient NPO and order a consultation from an otolaryngologist, who discovers the nasopharyngeal airway still lodged in the patient's nasal cavity.
James L. Rudolph, MD, SM| May 1, 2009
An elderly woman hospitalized for pneumonia becomes disoriented during hospitalization. Even though the patient was never confused at baseline, doctors attribute it to "senile dementia" and place her in restraints.
Gregg C. Fonarow, MD| September 1, 2007
An elderly man with a history of hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure (CHF), and countless hospital admissions for CHF came to the emergency department complaining of shortness of breath and fatigue. The admitting physician discovered that the patient had never received clear education about caring for himself outside the hospital.