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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 (46)

1 - 20 of 46 WebM&M Case Studies
Samantha Brown, MD, John S. Rose, MD, and David K. Barnes, MD| August 31, 2022

A 71-year-old man presented to a hospital-based orthopedic surgery clinic for a follow-up evaluation of his knee and complaints of pain and swelling in his right shoulder. His shoulder joint was found to be acutely inflamed and purulent fluid was aspirated from his shoulder. The patient was sent to the Emergency Department (ED) for suspected septic arthritis. Although the inpatient team was made aware of the incoming patient and admission orders were entered into the electronic health record (EHR) before ED arrival, ED staff were not informed of the incoming patient or the orthopedic surgeon’s plan for immediate admission. When the patient arrived, there were multiple patients in the ED waiting room and multiple boarding patients awaiting inpatient beds. The patient stayed in the ED hallway on “wall time” under the care of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel; no ED physician or nurse was assigned to evaluate or care for the patient because the transfer of care from EMS had not occurred. The patient was on wall time for at least 10 hours before any actions were taken by the ED before being admitted to the orthopedic inpatient service. The commentary discusses challenges associated with ED transfers and ED overcrowding, potential system-level solutions to the “wall time” problem, and the importance of closed-loop communication.

David Barnes, MD and Joseph Yoon, MD | April 27, 2022

An 18-month-old girl presented to the Emergency Department (ED) after being attacked by a dog and sustaining multiple penetrating injuries to her head and neck. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to establish intravenous access, an intraosseous (IO) line was placed in the patient’s proximal left tibia to facilitate administration of fluids, blood products, vasopressors, and antibiotics.  In the operating room, peripheral intravenous (IV) access was eventually obtained after which intraoperative use of the IO line was restricted to a low-rate fluid infusion.  An hour into the operation, the anesthesiologist found her left calf to be warm and tense, presumably due to fluid extravasation from the IO line.  The IO line was removed, and the Orthopedic Surgery service was consulted intraoperatively due to concern for acute compartment syndrome.  Signs of compartment syndrome eventually resolved without any surgical intervention.  The commentary summarizes complications associated with IO lines, the importance of anticipating procedural complications, and methods to identify the signs and symptoms of acute compartment syndrome.

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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.
Monica Donnelley, PharmD, Thomas Joseph Gintjee, PharmD, and James Go, PharmD| February 26, 2020
This commentary involves two patients who were discharged from the hospital to skilled nursing facilities on long-term antibiotics. In both cases, there were multiple errors in the follow up management of the antibiotics and associated laboratory tests. This case explores the errors and offers discussion regarding the integration of a specialized Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy (OPAT) team and others who can mitigate the risks and improve patient care.
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A 74-year-old male with a history of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure with an EF of 45%, stage I chronic kidney disease and gout presented for a total hip replacement. He had multiple home medications and was also on Warfarin, which was held appropriately prior to the surgery.  A Type and Cross for blood request was sent along with baseline labs; however, there was a mislabeling error on one of the samples causing a delay in the blood getting to the operating room resulting in the medical team initiating a massive transfusion protocol when the patient became hypotensive.
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A 1-month-old preterm infant in the NICU receiving the standard 500 mL bag of 0.45% sodium chloride (NaCl) with heparin at low rates developed hyponatremia. Clinicians recognized the need to deliver a more concentrated sodium solution and ordered that the IV fluid be changed to a 500 mL bag of 0.9% NaCl with heparin. However, due to a natural disaster affecting the supply chain for IV fluids, 0.9% NaCl 500 mL bags were in short supply, and the order was modified to use 100 mL 0.9% NaCl bags, which were available. Since the total volume was much smaller, a lower concentration formulation of heparin was required. However, the verifying pharmacist discovered that an 10-fold higher concentration had been used to compound the fluids, and further investigation revealed this same error had occurred on five other occasions.
Peter D. Mills, PhD, MS| May 1, 2018
A woman with a history of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder presented to the emergency department after a suicide attempt. Physical examination was significant for depressed affect and superficial lacerations to the bilateral forearms. Her left forearm laceration was sutured and bandaged with gauze. A psychiatrist evaluated her and placed an involuntary legal hold. Upon arrival to the inpatient psychiatric unit, the patient asked to use the bathroom. She unwrapped her wrist bandage, wrapped it around her neck and over the shower bar, and tried to hang herself. A staff member heard noise in the bathroom, immediately entered, and cut the gauze before the patient was seriously injured.
Brian F. Olkowski, DPT; Mary Ravenel, MSN; and Michael F. Stiefel, MD, PhD| April 1, 2018
Following elective lumbar drain placement to treat hydrocephalus and elevated intracranial pressures, a woman was admitted to the ICU for monitoring. After the patient participated in prescribed physical therapy on day 5, she complained of headaches, decreased appetite, and worsening visual problems—similar to her symptoms on admission. The nurse attributed the complaints to depression and took no action. Early in the morning, the patient was found barely arousable. The lumbar drain had dislodged, and a CT scan revealed the return of extensive hydrocephalus.
Craig A. Umscheid, MD, MSCE; John D. McGreevey, III, MD; and S. Ryan Greysen, MD, MHS, MA| December 1, 2017
Found unconscious at home, an older woman with advanced dementia and end-stage renal disease was resuscitated in the field and taken to the emergency department, where she was registered with a temporary medical record number. Once her actual medical record was identified, her DNR/DNI status was identified. After recognizing this and having discussions with the family, she was transitioned to comfort care and died a few hours later. Two months later, the clinic called the patient's home with an appointment reminder. The primary care physician had not been contacted about the patient's hospitalization and the electronic record system had not listed the patient as deceased.
Ken Catchpole, PhD| August 1, 2017
Because the plan to biopsy a large gastric mass concerning for malignancy was not conveyed to the hospitalist caring for the patient, she was not made NPO, nor was her anticoagulant medication stopped. The nurse anesthetist performing the preanesthesia checklist noted she received her anticoagulation that morning but did not notify the gastroenterologist. The patient had postprocedural bleeding.
Stephen Stewart, MBChB, PhD| July 1, 2017
Hospitalized for pneumonia, a woman with a history of alcohol abuse and depression was found unconscious on the medical ward. A toxicology panel revealed her blood alcohol level was elevated at 530 mg/dL. A search of the ward revealed several empty containers of alcoholic foam sanitizer, which the patient confessed to ingesting.
Matthew J. Doyle, MBBS| April 1, 2017
Prior to undergoing a CT scan, a patient with no allergies documented in the electronic health record (EHR) described a history of hives after receiving contrast. During a follow-up clinic visit, the patient inquired whether this contrast reaction was listed in the EHR. Investigation revealed that it had been removed from the patient's profile, thus leaving the record with no evidence of allergy to contrast.
John Q. Young, MD, MPP| June 1, 2016
Multiple transitions and assumptions made during the first week in July, when the graduating fellow had left and a new fellow and intern had begun on the surgery service, led to a patient mistakenly not receiving medication to prevent venous thromboembolism until several days after his surgery.
Michael E. Detsky, MD, MSc| April 1, 2016
During a hospitalization after a cardiac arrest, an older man underwent placement of a PEG tube for nutrition, and an abdominal radiograph the next day showed "free air under the diaphragm." Although the resident got a "curbside consult" from surgery saying this finding should be monitored, the consult was not documented in the chart. Two days later, the patient was urgently taken to surgery to repair a large gastric perforation and spillage of tube feeds into the peritoneum and then transferred to the ICU in septic shock.
Tara Kirkpatrick, MD, and Chad LaGrange, MD| February 1, 2016
Despite mechanical problems with the robotic arms during a robotic-assisted prostatectomy, the surgeon continued using the technology and completed the operation. Following the procedure, the patient developed serious bleeding requiring multiple blood transfusions, several additional surgeries, and a prolonged hospital stay.
Michele M. Pelter, RN, PhD, and Barbara J. Drew, RN, PhD| December 1, 2015
Following a non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, a man was admitted to the hospital and placed on a telemetry monitor. As the monitor was constantly sounding with "low voltage" and "asystole" alerts and the patient was well each time clinicians checked, they silenced the alarms. The patient was found dead 4 hours later.
Kevin Moore, MBBS, PhD| December 1, 2015
A man with cirrhosis and abdominal distension was found to have significant ascites. The emergency department providers performed a large volume paracentesis to relieve his symptoms, but, as the 10th liter of fluid was removed, the patient became acutely hypotensive.
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.
LauraEllen Ashcraft, MSW, and Jeremy M. Kahn, MD, MS| September 1, 2015
An 18-year-old who sustained a traumatic brain injury after a motor vehicle collision required a decompressive craniectomy, a prolonged stay in the adult trauma intensive care unit, and a second operation (cranioplasty) several weeks later. After the second procedure, the patient was transferred to a pediatric acute rehabilitation facility, had new onset seizures the next day, and was transferred to an acute pediatric hospital for evaluation. Findings indicated that another surgical procedure was needed, and he was then transferred back to the adult trauma facility where he had his surgeries.
Matthew S. Russell, MD, and Marika D. Russell, MD| August 21, 2015
Admitted to the hospital with sepsis and pneumonia, an elderly man developed acute respiratory distress syndrome requiring mechanical ventilation. On hospital day 12, clinicians placed a tracheostomy, and a few days later the patient developed acute hypoxia and ultimately went into cardiac arrest when his tracheostomy tube became dislodged.