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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 (22)

1 - 20 of 22 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.

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.
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Emanuel Kanal, MD| May 1, 2019
After presenting with new left-sided weakness and hypertensive urgency, a woman was admitted to the stroke unit, and the consulting neurologist ordered an urgent MRI of the brain. Although the patient required pushes of intravenous hypertensive medication to control her blood pressure (BP), she was taken to radiology where the nurse checked her BP one more time before leaving her in the MRI machine with the BP cuff still on. Within a few seconds of starting the scan, the patient's arm with the BP cuff was sucked into the MRI scanner, making a loud noise.
Stephanie Rogers, MD, and Derek Ward, MD| April 1, 2019
An elderly man with a complicated medical history slipped on a rug at home, fell, and injured his hip. Emergency department evaluation and imaging revealed no head injury and a left intertrochanteric hip fracture. Although he was admitted to the orthopedic surgery service, with surgery to fix the fracture initially scheduled for the next day, the operation was delayed by 3 days due to several emergent trauma cases and lack of surgeon availability. He ultimately underwent surgery and was discharged a few days later but was readmitted several weeks later with chest pain and shortness of breath. He was found to have a pulmonary embolism; anticoagulation was initiated. The patient's rehabilitation was delayed, his recovery was prolonged, and he never returned to his baseline functional status.
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).
Marta L. Render, MD| May 1, 2012
After placing a central line in an elderly patient following a heart attack, a community hospital transferred him to a referral hospital for stenting of his coronary arteries. He was discharged to an assisted living facility 2 days later, with the central line still in place.
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.
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.
Pascale Carayon, PhD| May 1, 2007
On the day of a patient's scheduled electroconvulsive therapy, the clinic anesthesiologist called in sick. Unprepared for such an absence, the staff asked the very busy OR anesthesiologist to fill in on the case. Because the wrong drug was administered, the patient did not wake up as quickly as expected.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Arpana Vidyarthi, MD| March 1, 2004
Due to a series of incomplete signouts, information about a patient's post-operative leg pain and chest discomfort is not conveyed to the primary team. A PE is discovered post-mortem.