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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 (39)

Displaying 1 - 20 of 39 WebM&M Case Studies
Janeane Giannini, PharmD, Melinda Wong, PharmD, William Dager, PharmD, Scott MacDonald, MD, and Richard H. White, MD | June 24, 2020
A male patient with history of femoral bypasses underwent thrombolysis and thrombectomy for a popliteal artery occlusion. An error in the discharge education materials resulted in the patient taking incorrect doses of rivaroxaban post-discharge, resulting in a readmission for recurrent right popliteal and posterior tibial occlusion. The commentary discusses the challenges associated with prescribing direct-action oral anticoagulants (DOACs) and how computerized clinical decision support tools can promote adherence to guideline recommendations and mitigate the risk of error, and how tools such as standardized teaching materials and teach-back can support patient understanding of medication-related instructions.
Mikael Broman, MD, PhD| April 29, 2020
A 54-year old women with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was admitted for chronic respiratory failure. Due to severe hypoxemia, she was intubated, mechanically ventilated and required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). During the hospitalization, she developed clotting problems, which necessitated transfer to the operating room to change one of the ECMO components. On the way back to the intensive care unit, a piece of equipment became snagged on the elevator door and the system alarmed. The perfusionist arrived 30-minutes later and realized that the ECMO machine was introducing room air to the patient’s circulation, leading to air embolism. The patient became severely hypotensive and bradycardic, and despite aggressive attempts at resuscitation, she died.
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.
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).
Following urgent catheter-directed thrombolysis to relieve acute limb ischemia caused by thrombosis of her left superficial femoral artery, an elderly woman was admitted to the ICU. While ordering a heparin drip, the resident was unaware that the EHR order set had undergone significant changes and inadvertently ordered too low a heparin dose. Although the pharmacist and bedside nurse noticed the low dose, they assumed the resident selected the dose purposefully. Because the patient was inadequately anticoagulated, she developed extensive thrombosis associated with the catheter and sheath site, requiring surgical intervention for critical limb ischemia (including amputation of the contralateral leg above the knee).
Anne M. Turner, MD, MLIS, MPH| October 1, 2017
A Spanish-speaking woman presented to an urgent care clinic complaining of headache and worsening dizziness, for which the treating clinician ordered an MRI. When the results came in with no concerning findings later that day, the provider used Google Translate to write a letter informing the patient of the results. The patient interpreted the letter to mean that the results were concerning. This miscommunication led to patient distress and extra visits to both urgent care and the emergency department.
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.
Tosha Wetterneck, MD, MS| December 1, 2015
Hospitalized with nonketotic hyperglycemia, a man was placed on IV insulin and his blood sugars improved. That evening, the patient was transferred to the ICU with chest pain and his IV insulin order was changed to sliding scale subcutaneous insulin. However, over the next several hours, the patient again developed hyperglycemia.
After leaving Hospital X against medical advice, a man with paraplegia presented to the emergency department of Hospital Y with pain and fever. The patient was diagnosed with sepsis and admitted to Hospital Y for management. In the night, the nurse found the patient unresponsive and called a code blue. The patient was resuscitated and transferred to the ICU, where physicians determined that the arrest was due to acute rupturing of his red blood cells (hemolysis), presumably caused by a reaction to the antibiotic. Later that day, the patient's records arrived from three hospitals where he had been treated recently. One record noted that he had previously experienced a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic, which was new information for the providers at Hospital Y.
Krishnan Padmakumari Sivaraman Nair, DM| August 21, 2015
A 5-year-old boy with transverse myelitis presented to the rehabilitation medicine clinic for scheduled quarterly botulinum toxin injections to his legs for spasticity. Halfway through the course of injections, the patient's mother noted her son was tolerating the procedure "much better than 3 weeks earlier"—the patient had been getting extra injections without the physicians' knowledge. Physicians discussed the risks of too-frequent injections with the family. Fortunately, the patient had no adverse effects from the additional injections.
Dustin W. Ballard, MD, MBE; David R. Vinson, MD; and Dustin G. Mark, MD| May 1, 2015
A man with a history of poorly controlled diabetes and pancreatic insufficiency was found unresponsive. Paramedics transported him to the emergency department, where a resident placed a right internal jugular line for access but was unable to confirm placement. The resident pulled the line, opened a second line insertion kit, started over, and confirmed placement with ultrasound. The patient went into cardiac arrest, and a chest radiograph noted a retained guidewire in the pulmonary artery.
Amanda Wollitz, PharmD, and Michael O'Connor, PharmD, MS| March 1, 2015
Admitted to the hospital with chest pain, headache, and accelerated hypertension, an older man with a history of chronic kidney disease and essential hypertension who had missed several days of his regular medications was to be started back on them gradually. One of his antihypertensive medications (minoxidil) was ordered via the EHR, but a vasopressor/antihypotensive medication with a similar name (midodrine) was dispensed. Fortunately, a nurse noticed the discrepancy before administration.
Urmimala Sarkar, MD, MPH| October 1, 2013
Although the mother of a child, born male who identified as and expressed externally as a girl, had alerted the clinic of the child's preferred name when making the appointment, the medical staff called for the patient in the waiting room using her legal (masculine) name.
John Q. Young, MD, MPP| July 1, 2011
A healthy elderly man presented to his primary care doctor—a third-year internal medicine resident—for routine examination. A PSA test was markedly elevated, but the results came back after the resident had graduated, and the alert went unread. Months later, the patient presented with new onset low back pain and was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.
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.
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.
James E. Sabin, MD| December 1, 2009
A man with a history of IV drug use is admitted to the hospital and found to have an epidural abscess with surrounding osteomyelitis. Although the treatment plan required weeks of IV antibiotics, the patient (who fought with the nursing staff and threatened to leave against medical advice [AMA]) was discharged after 2 weeks on oral antibiotics. His condition worsened, and he returned 3 weeks later, but he ultimately left AMA and was lost to follow-up.
Ernest J. Ring, MD; Jane E. Hirsch, RN, MS| October 1, 2009
Cardiology consultation on an elderly man admitted to the orthopedic service following a hip fracture reveals aortic stenosis. The cardiologist recommends against surgery, due to the risk of anesthesia. When the nurse reads these recommendations to the orthopedic resident, he calls her "stupid" and contacts the OR to schedule the surgery anyway. The Chief Medical Officer is called to intervene.
Dorrie K. Fontaine, RN, PhD| October 1, 2009
A toddler admitted for severe dehydration requires a femoral IV. The anesthesiologist ignores a nurse's reminder that hospital policy requires monitoring if a child is to receive sedation in the unit. When the nurse attempts to stop the procedure, the anesthesiologist throws the needle to the floor.