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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 (19)

Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 WebM&M Case Studies
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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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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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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Rebecca K. Krisman, MD, MPH and Hannah Spero, MSN, APRN, NP-C | December 23, 2020

A 65-year-old man with metastatic cancer and past medical history of schizophrenia, developmental delay, and COPD was admitted to the hospital with a spinal fracture. He experienced postoperative complications and continued to require intermittent oxygen and BIPAP in the intensive care unit (ICU) to maintain oxygenation. Upon consultation with the palliative care team about goals of care, the patient with telephonic support of his long time caregiver, expressed his wish to go home and the palliative care team, discharge planner, and social services coordinated plans for transfer home. Although no timeline for the transfer had been established, the patient’s code status was changed to “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) with a plan for him to remain in the ICU for a few days to stabilize. Unfortunately, the patient was transferred out of the ICU after the palliative care team left for the weekend and his respiratory status deteriorated. The patient died in the hospital later that week; he was never able to go home as he had wished. The associated commentary describes how care inconsistent with patient goals and wishes is a form of preventable harm, discusses the need for clear communication between care team, and the importance of providers and healthcare team members serving as advocates for their vulnerable patients.

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Glen Xiong, MD and Debra Kahn, MD| November 27, 2019
Two different patients were seen in the emergency department a history of excessive alcohol consumption and suicidal ideation along with other medical comorbidities. In both cases, acute medical conditions prevented a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation being completed by psychiatric emergency services. Unfortunately, both patients were discharged after resolution of their medical conditions and were later found dead.
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.
Christopher Fee, MD| March 21, 2009
Interrupted during a telephone handoff, an ED physician, despite limited information, must treat a patient in respiratory arrest. The patient is stabilized and transferred to the ICU with a presumed diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia and septic shock. Later, ICU physicians obtain further history that leads to the correct diagnosis: pulmonary embolism.
Emily S. Patterson, PhD| November 1, 2008
Due to lack of communication during shift change, an infant's transfer to a higher level of care is delayed. The infant develops respiratory distress, prompting a call to the rapid response team and transfer to the ICU.
Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH| October 1, 2008
An elderly, non–English-speaking man with diabetes was admitted to the hospital twice in 8 days due to hypoglycemia. At discharge, the patient was instructed not to take any antidiabetic medications. In between hospitalizations, he saw his primary care physician, who restarted an antidiabetic medication.
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.
Eric G. Poon, MD, MPH| September 1, 2007
Hospitalized for surgery, a woman with a history of seizures was given an overdose of the wrong medicine due to multiple errors, including an inaccurate preadmission medication list, failure to verify medication history, and uncoordinated information systems.
Arpana R. Vidyarthi, MD| September 1, 2006
An elderly man was admitted to the hospital for pacemaker placement. Although the postoperative chest film was normal, the patient later developed shortness of breath. Over the course of several nursing and physician shift changes and signouts, results of a follow-up stat x-ray are not properly obtained, delaying discovery of the patient's pneumothorax.
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.
Elizabeth A. Howell, MD, MPP; Mark R. Chassin, MD, MPP, MPH| May 1, 2006
A woman with a fractured right foot receives spinal anesthesia and nearly has surgery for trimalleolar fracture and dislocation of the left ankle. Only immediately prior to surgery did the team realize that the x-ray was not hers.
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.
Alan Forster, MD, MSc| December 1, 2004
A patient arrives at the ED in acute kidney failure; another patient arrives at the ED profoundly hypoglycemic. Both mishaps were determined to stem from medication errors at the time of discharge.
James G. Adams, MD| June 1, 2003
Abdominal pain misdiagnosed in an ED patient leads to ruptured appendix, multiple complications, and prolonged hospitalization.
Sidney T. Bogardus, Jr., MD| April 1, 2003
Delirious and coagulopathic patient with subdural hematomas falls out of bed—twice!