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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: December 14, 2022
Narath Carlile, MD, MPH, Clyde Lanford Smith, MD, MPH, DTM&H, James H. Maguire, MD, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD | December 14, 2022

This case describes a man in his 70s with a history of multiple myeloma and multiple healthcare encounters for diarrhea in the previous five years, which had always been attributed to viral or unknown causes, without any microbiologic or serologic... Read More

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Naileshni S. Singh, MD | December 14, 2022

A 63-year-old woman was admitted to a hospital for anterior cervical discectomy (levels C4-C7) and plating for cervical spinal stenosis under general anesthesia. The operation was uneventful and intraoperative neuromonitoring was used to help prevent... Read More

Mark Fedyk, PhD, Nathan Fairman, MD, MPH, Patrick S. Romano, MD, MPH, John MacMillan, MD, and Monica Miller, RN, MS, CCRN | December 14, 2022

A 65-year-old man with metastatic liver disease presented to the hospital with worsening abdominal pain after a partial hepatectomy and development of a large ventral hernia. Imaging studies revealed perforated diverticulitis. A goals-of-care... 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 (154)

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Displaying 1 - 20 of 154 WebM&M Case Studies

A 62-year-old Spanish-speaking woman presented to the pre-anesthesia area for elective removal of a left thigh lipoma. Expecting a relatively simple outpatient operation, the anesthesiologist opted not to use a Spanish language translator and performed a quick pre-anesthesia evaluation, obtaining her history from the medical record. Unknown to the anesthesiologist, the patient was trying to communicate to him that she had undergone jaw replacement surgery and that her mouth opening was therefore anatomically limited. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist realized he would need to ventilate the patient, but his view was severely limited, and he was unable to visualize the airway sufficiently for intubation. Eventually the patient was intubated, although both of her central maxillary incisors were dislodged in the process, and she required dental implants to replace the two dislodged teeth. The commentary discusses the importance of conducting preoperative assessments in the patient’s own language and the role of medical interpreting services, as well as approaches to manage patients with difficult airways.  

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 “stone heart” due to suspected ischemic injury and was unable to come off bypass. The patient was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and transported to the ICU to allow family members to see the patient before stopping life support. Post-mortem case review identified several areas of improvement in the implementation of the Communication AND Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) process. The commentary summarizes the CANDOR process and effective implementation.

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 arterial thromboses the right lower extremity and an echocardiogram revealed a thrombus near the prosthetic heart valve. The attending physician ordered discontinuation of warfarin and initiation of a heparin drip. On hospital day 3, the patient’s right leg became discolored and cold, but the healthcare team insisted that she was being treated appropriately; two days later, the patient complained of pain, additional discoloration, and her toes appeared to be turning black. The patient was taken to the Operating Room (OR) to remove the arterial thrombus, but a more extensive operation was needed to restore arterial blood flow. The commentary summarizes the signs of acute limb ischemia and appropriate approaches to prevent and manage arterial thrombosis, particularly among patients on anticoagulants.

A 49-year-old woman presented to an Emergency Department (ED) with abdominal pain nine hours after discharge following outpatient laparoscopic left oophorectomy. The left oophorectomy procedure involved an umbilical port placed using an Optiport visual trocar, a suprapubic port, and two additional ports laterally. The operative note mentioned no visible injury upon entry into the abdominal cavity, but there were extensive adhesions in the pelvis. Nine hours after discharge, the patient presented to another hospital due to increasing pain, nausea, and fever. The patient underwent a laparotomy and the surgical team found fecal contamination upon entry into the peritoneal cavity; the surgeons concluded that the most plausible explanation was a trocar injury. The commentary discusses the risk of vascular and bowel injury during peritoneal access for laparoscopy and the importance of patient history and abdominal anatomy when considering approaches to abdominal entry.

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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.

Commentary by Jennifer Rosenthal, MD, MAS and Michelle Hamline, MD, PhD, MAS| August 31, 2022

A 2-year-old girl presented to her pediatrician with a cough, runny nose, low grade fever and fatigue; a nasal swab for SARS-CoV-2 and influenza was negative and lung sounds were clear. The patient developed a fever and labored breathing and was taken to the Emergency Department (ED) before being admitted to the hospital. She developed respiratory distress and clinically worsened over time until she developed respiratory failure requiring air transportation to the pediatric intensive care unit at a children’s hospital. She was ultimately diagnosed with adenovirus after developing conjunctivitis and bronchiolitis. After 3 days of continuous monitoring and treatment in the PICU, the patient was alert, responsive, and hungry. She was taken off supplemental oxygen after about 24 more hours, transferred to a regular pediatric bed, and then discharged to outpatient follow-up care. The commentary addresses patient safety risks associated with pediatric interfacility transfers and strategies to mitigate preventable harms due to poor provider-provider communication, provider-family communication, and family engagement.

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.

A 65-year-old female with a documented allergy to latex underwent surgery for right-sided Zenker’s diverticulum. Near the conclusion of surgery, a latex Penrose drain was placed in the neck surgical incision. The patient developed generalized urticaria, bronchospasm requiring high airway pressures to achieve adequate ventilation, and hypotension within 5 minutes of placement of the drain. The drain was removed and replaced with a silicone drain. Epinephrine and vasopressors were administered post-operatively and the patient’s symptoms resolved. The commentary discusses risk factors and consequences of latex allergy in hospital and operating room settings, common latex products that trigger allergic reactions  and hospital safety practices that can limit the risk of latex exposure.

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Anamaria Robles, MD, and Garth Utter, MD, MSc | August 31, 2022

A 49-year-old woman was referred by per primary care physician (PCP) to a gastroenterologist for recurrent bouts of abdominal pain, occasional vomiting, and diarrhea. Colonoscopy, esophagogastroduodenoscopy, and x-rays were interpreted as normal, and the patient was reassured that her symptoms should abate. The patient was seen by her PCP and visited the Emergency Department (ED) several times over the next six months. At each ED visit, the patient’s labs were normal and no imaging was performed. A second gastroenterologist suggested a diagnosis of intestinal ischemia to the patient, her primary gastroenterologist, her PCP, and endocrinologist but the other physicians did not follow up on the possibility of mesenteric ischemia. On another ED visit, the second gastroenterologist consulted a surgeon, and a mesenteric angiogram was performed, confirming a diagnosis of mesenteric ischemia with gangrenous intestines. The patient underwent near-total intestinal resection, developed post-operative infections requiring additional operations, experienced cachexia despite parenteral nutrition, and died of sepsis 3 months later.  The commentary discusses the importance of early diagnosis of mesenteric ischemia and how to prevent diagnostic errors that can impede early identification and treatment.

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Samson Lee, PharmD, and Mithu Molla, MD, MBA| August 5, 2022

This WebM&M highlights two cases where home diabetes medications were not reviewed during medication reconciliation and the preventable harm that could have occurred. The commentary discusses the importance of medication reconciliation, how to compile the ‘best possible medication history’, and how pharmacy staff roles and responsibilities can reduce medication errors.

Garima Agrawal, MD, MPH, Pouria Kashkouli, MD, MS, and and Deb Bakerjian PhD, APRN, FAAN, FAANP, FGSA| July 8, 2022

This WebM&M describes a 78-year-old veteran with dementia-associated aggressive behavior who was hospitalized multiple times over several months for hypoxic respiratory failure and atrial fibrillation before being discharged to a skilled nursing facility. The advanced care planning team, in consultation with palliative care and ethics experts, determined that transition to hospice was appropriate. However, these recommendations were verbally communicated and not documented in the chart. The patient developed acute hypoxic respiratory failure the night prior to the planned transition to hospice, was re-admitted to the hospital, and passed away three weeks later at the hospital. The commentary discusses the importance of well-coordinated transitions of care and the importance of active communication and standardized documentation during palliative care transitions.

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 unnecessary procedure; in the second case, the wrong patient received an unnecessary chest x-ray. The commentary highlights the consequences of patient transport errors and strategies to enhance the safety of patient transport and prevent transport-related errors.

Katrina Pasao, MD and Pouria Kashkouli, MD, MS | March 31, 2022

This Spotlight Case describes an older man incidentally diagnosed with prostate cancer, with metastases to the bone. He was seen in clinic one month after that discharge, without family present, and scheduled for outpatient biopsy. He showed up to the biopsy without adequate preparation and so it was rescheduled. He did not show up to the following four oncology appointments. Over the course of the following year, the patient’s son and daughter were contacted at various points to re-establish care, but he continued to miss scheduled appointments and treatments. During a hospital admission, a palliative care team determined that the patient did not have capacity to make complex medical decisions. He was discharged to a skilled nursing facility, and then to a board and care when he failed to improve. He missed two more oncology appointments before being admitted with cancer-related pain. Based on the patient’s poor functional status, he was not considered a candidate for additional therapy. After a discussion of goals of care with the patient and daughter, he was enrolled in hospice. The commentary outlines key elements for assessing patient capacity, the importance of understanding the patient’s psychosocial history, and strategies to strengthen psychosocial training for medical and nursing trainees.

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Cynthia Li, PharmD, and Katrina Marquez, PharmD| July 28, 2021

This commentary presents two cases highlighting common medication errors in retail pharmacy settings and discusses the importance of mandatory counseling for new medications, use of standardized error reporting processes, and the role of clinical decision support systems (CDSS) in medical decision-making and ensuring medication safety.

A 52-year-old man complaining of intermittent left shoulder pain for several years was diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury and underwent left shoulder surgery. The patient received a routine follow-up X-ray four months later. The radiologist interpreted the film as normal but noted a soft tissue density in the chest and advised a follow-up chest X-ray for further evaluation. Although the radiologist’s report was sent to the orthopedic surgeon’s office, the surgeon independently read and interpreted the same images and did not note the soft tissue density or order any follow-up studies. Several months later, the patient’s primary care provider ordered further evaluation and lung cancer was diagnosed. The commentary discusses how miscommunication contributes to delays in diagnosis and treatment and strategies to facilitate effective communication between radiologists and referring clinicians.  

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A 34-year-old morbidly obese man was placed under general anesthesia to treat a pilonidal abscess. Upon initial evaluation by an anesthesiologist, he was found to have a short thick neck, suggesting that endotracheal intubation might be difficult. A fellow anesthetist suggested use of video-laryngoscopy equipment, but the attending anesthesiologist rejected the suggestion. A first-year resident attempted to intubate the patient but failed. The attending anesthesiologist took over, but before intubation could be performed, the patient desaturated to 40-50%. A second attempt by the attending anesthesiologist at intubation with a glide scope also failed. The patient’s arterial saturation increased after administration of 100% oxygen by mask and he suffered no apparent neurological consequences. The commentary discusses best practices for managing high risk patients and appropriate use of advanced airway management devices.

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.

Deborah Plante, MD, and Andrea Gonzalez Falero, MD| April 28, 2021

A 24-year-old woman with type 1 diabetes presented to the emergency department with worsening abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Her last dose of insulin was one day prior to presentation. She stopped taking insulin because she was not tolerating any oral intake. The admitting team managed her diabetes with subcutaneous insulin but thought the patient did not meet criteria for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), but after three inpatient days with persistent hyperglycemia, blurred vision, and altered mental status, a consulting endocrinologist diagnosed DKA. The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) and an insulin drip was started, after which the patient’s metabolic derangements normalized and her symptoms resolved. The commentary discusses the importance of educating patients and providers on risk factors for DKA and symptoms in type 1 diabetics, the use of a stepwise approach to diagnosing acid-based disorders, clinical decision support tools to guide physiologic insulin replacement, and the role of closed-loop communication to decrease medical error.

Stephen A. Martin, MD, EdM, Gordon D. Schiff, MD, and Sanjat Kanjilal, MD, MPH | April 28, 2021

A pregnant patient was admitted for scheduled Cesarean delivery, before being tested according to a universal inpatient screening protocol for SARS-CoV-2. During surgery, the patient developed a fever and required oxygen supplementation. Due to suspicion for COVID-19, a specimen obtained via nasopharyngeal swab was sent to a commercial laboratory for reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing. However, due to delays in receiving those results, another sample was tested two days later with a newly developed in-house test, and a third sample was sent to the state public health laboratory. The in-house test returned as positive for SARS-CoV-2. The patient was discharged in stable clinical condition but was advised to quarantine for 14 days. Two days after the patient’s discharge, the commercial and state lab tests were both reported as negative. A root-cause analysis subsequently determined that the positive test run on the in-house platform was due to cross-contamination from a neighboring positive sample. The commentary discusses the challenges associated with SARS-CoV-2 testing, the unprecedented burden faced by health systems, and downstream consequences of false positive tests.