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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: May 16, 2022
Garima Agrawal, MD, MPH, and Mithu Molla, MD, MBA | May 16, 2022

This WebM&M describes two cases involving patients who became unresponsive in unconventional locations – inside of a computed tomography (CT) scanner and at an outpatient transplant clinic – and strategies to ensure that all healthcare teams are... Read More

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... 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 (34)

1 - 20 of 34 WebM&M Case Studies
Jeremiah Duby, PharmD, Kendra Schomer, PharmD, Victoria Oyewole, PharmD, Delia Christian, RN, BSN, CNRN, and Sierra Young, PharmD| May 26, 2021

A 65-year-old man with a history of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and coronary artery disease was transferred from a Level III trauma center to a Level I trauma center with lower extremity paralysis after a ground level fall complicated by a 9-cm abdominal aortic aneurysm and cervical spinal cord injury. Post transfer, the patient was noted to have rapidly progressive ascending paralysis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed severe spinal stenosis involving C3-4 and post-traumatic cord edema/contusion involving C6-7. A continuous intravenous (IV) infusion of norepinephrine was initiated to maintain adequate spinal cord perfusion, with a target mean arterial pressure goal of greater than 85 mmHg. Unfortunately, norepinephrine was incorrectly programmed into the infusion pump for a weight-based dose of 0.5 mcg/kg/min rather than the ordered dose of 0.5 mcg/min, resulting in a dose that was 70 times greater than intended. The patient experienced bradycardia and cardiac arrest and subsequently died.

A 58-year-old female receiving treatment for transformed lymphoma was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with E. coli bacteremia and colitis secondary to neutropenia, and ongoing hiccups lasting more than 48 hours. She was prescribed thioridazine 10 mg twice daily for the hiccups and received four doses without resolution; the dose was then increased to 15 mg and again to 25 mg without resolution. When she was transferred back to the inpatient floor, the pharmacist, in reviewing her records and speaking with the resident physician, thioridazine (brand name Mellaril) had been prescribed when chlorpromazine (brand name Thorazine) had been intended. The commentary discusses the use of computerized physician order entry (CPOE) to reduce prescribing errors in inpatient settings and the importance of having a pharmacist on the patient care team to avoid prescribing errors involving less commonly prescribed medications. 

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.
C. Craig Blackmore, MD, MPH| March 1, 2019
A woman with multiple myeloma required placement of a central venous catheter for apheresis. The outpatient oncologist intended to order a nontunneled catheter via computerized provider order entry but accidentally ordered a tunneled catheter. The interventional radiologist thought the order was unusual but didn't contact the oncologist. A tunneled catheter was placed without complications. When the patient presented for apheresis, providers recognized the wrong catheter had been placed, and the patient underwent an additional procedure.
Mary G. Amato, PharmD, MPH, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD| January 1, 2018
Admitted for intravenous diuretic therapy and control of his atrial fibrillation, an older man was mistakenly given metoprolol tartrate instead of his home dose of extended-release metoprolol succinate. That night, he developed atrioventricular block, experienced a pulseless electrical activity cardiac arrest, and died. Review of the case identified problems in the human factors design in the computerized order entry system that contributed to the prescribing error.
Chris Vincent, PhD| December 1, 2016
Admitted to the hospital for treatment of a hip fracture, an elderly woman with end-stage dementia was placed on the hospice service for comfort care. The physician ordered a morphine drip for better pain control. The nurse placed the normal saline, but not the morphine drip, on a pump. Due to the mistaken setup, the morphine flowed into the patient at uncontrolled rate.
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.
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.
Dorothy Dougherty, RN| November 1, 2010
A hospitalized 2-month-old infant is fed breast milk from another infant's mother after the wrong bottle is pulled from the ward's refrigerator.
William W. Churchill, MS, RPh; Karen Fiumara, PharmD| April 1, 2009
A powerful anti-clotting medication is ordered for a patient admitted for coronary intervention. Due to a forcing function in the computer order entry system, the intern enters an arbitrary maintenance infusion rate, assuming that the pharmacy will fix it if it is wrong. The pharmacy dispenses it as written, and the nurse administers it—underdosing the patient by a factor of 40.
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.
Mary A. Blegen, PhD, RN; Ginette A. Pepper, PhD, RN| May 1, 2006
A nursing student administers the wrong 'cup' of medications to an elderly man. A different student discovered the error when she reviewed the medicines in her patient's cup and noticed they were the wrong ones.
Richard H. White, MD | August 21, 2005
An intern increases a patient's warfarin dosage nightly based on subtherapeutic INR levels drawn each morning; after several days, the patient develops potentially life-threatening bleeding.
David M. Gaba, MD | October 1, 2004
A dyspneic patient fails to improve after being placed on high-flow oxygen. The respiratory therapist soon discovers why: the patient is mistakenly receiving compressed room air.
Kay Ball, RN, MSA | October 1, 2004
While repositioning the trocar, a surgeon places the laparoscope on a tray sitting on the patient. When she picks it back up, she notices that the drape has melted and the patient has a second-degree burn.
Bradley A. Sharpe, MD| July 1, 2004
A woman hospitalized for CHF (with no history of diabetes) is given several rounds of insulin and D50, after repeated blood tests show her glucose to be dangerously high, then dangerously low. Turns out, the blood samples were drawn incorrectly and the signouts were incomplete.
Dean Schillinger, MD| March 1, 2004
A misunderstanding of instructions on how to administer medication leads to an infant choking on a syringe cap.