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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 (26)

Displaying 1 - 20 of 26 WebM&M Case Studies
Brooks T Kuhn, MD, and Florence Chau-Etchepare, MD| October 27, 2022

A 47-year-old man underwent a navigational bronchoscopy with transbronchial biospy under general anesthesia without complications. The patient was transferred to the post-acute care unit (PACU) for observation and a routine post-procedure chest x-ray (CXR). After the CXR was taken, the attending physician spoke to the patient and discussed his impressions, although he had not yet seen the CXR. He left the PACU without communicating with the bedside nurse, who was caring for other patients. The patient informed the nurse that the attending physician had no concerns. While preparing the patient for discharge, the nurse paged the fellow requesting discharge orders. The fellow assumed that the attending physician had reviewed the CXR and submitted the discharge orders as requested. Thirty minutes after the patient was discharged the radiologist called the care team to alert them to the finding of pneumothorax on the post-procedure CXR. The commentary summarizes complications associated with bronchoscopy and strategies to improve perioperative safety.

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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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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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Kevin J. Keenan, MD, and Daniel K. Nishijima, MD, MAS | July 8, 2022

A 58-year-old man with a past medical history of seizures presented to the emergency department (ED) with acute onset of left gaze deviation, expressive aphasia, and right-sided hemiparesis. The patient was evaluated by the general neurology team in the ED, who suspected an acute ischemic stroke and requested an evaluation by the stroke neurology team but did not activate a stroke alert. The stroke team concluded that the patient had suffered a focal seizure prior to arrival and had postictal deficits. The stroke team did not order emergent CT angiography and perfusion imaging but recommended routine magnetic resonance imaging with angiography (MRI/MRA) for further evaluation, which showed extensive cerebral infarction in the distribution of an occluded left middle cerebral artery (MCA). Due to the delayed diagnosis of left MCA stroke, it was too late to perform any neurovascular intervention. The commentary highlights the importance of timely use of stroke alert protocols, challenges with CT angiography in early acute ischemic stroke, and the importance of communication and collaboration between ED and neurology teams.

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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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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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Hannah Spero, MSN, APRN, Angela E. Usher, PhD, LCSW, Brian Howard MS1, and Frederick J. Meyers, MD | November 30, 2021

A 77-year-old man was diagnosed with a rectal mass. After discussing goals of care with an oncologist, he declined surgical intervention and underwent targeted radiotherapy before being lost to follow up. The patient subsequently presented to Emergency Department after a fall at home and was found to have new metastatic lesions in both lungs and numerous enhancing lesions in the brain. Further discussions of the goals of care revealed that the patient desired to focus on comfort and on maintaining independence for as long as possible. The inpatient hospice team discussed the potential role of brain radiotherapy for palliation to meet the goal of maintaining independence. The patient successfully completed a course of central nervous system (CNS) radiation, which resulted in improved strength, energy, speech, and quality of life. This case represents a perceived delay in palliative radiation, an “error” in care. The impact of the delay was lessened by the hospice team who role modeled integration of disease directed therapy with palliative care, a departure from the historic model of separation of hospice from disease treatment. 

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Florence Tan, PharmD, Karnjit Johl, MD and Mariya Kotova, PharmD| September 29, 2021

This case describes multiple emergency department (ED) encounters and hospitalizations experienced by a middle-aged woman with sickle cell crisis and a past history of multiple, long admissions related to her sickle cell disease. The multiple encounters highlight the challenges of opioid prescribing for patients with chronic, non-cancer pain. The commentary discusses the limitations of prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) data for patients with chronic pain, challenges in opioid dose conversions, and increasing patient safety through safe medication prescribing and thorough medication reconciliation.

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Linnea Lantz, DO, Joseph Yoon, MD, and David Barnes, MD, FACEP | September 29, 2021

A 44-year-old man presented to his primary care physician (PCP) with complaints of new onset headache, photophobia, and upper respiratory tract infections. He had a recent history of interferon treatment for Hepatitis C infection and a remote history of cervical spine surgery requiring permanent spinal hardware. On physical examination, his neck was tender, but he had no neurologic abnormalities. He was sent home from the clinic with advice to take over-the-counter analgesics. Over the next several days, the patient was evaluated for the same or similar symptoms again by his PCP and was seen by the emergency department and urgent care clinics before being admitted to the hospital; however, he was misdiagnosed with Staphylococcal meningitis, and it was not until his third inpatient day when cervical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed a spinal epidural abscess. The commentary discusses the multiple factors leading to erroneous interpretation tests for spinal epidural abscess and the importance of broadening differentials and avoiding premature closure during diagnosis.

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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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Sarina Fazio, PhD, RN, Emma Blackmon, PhD, RN, Amy Doroy, PhD, RN, Ai Nhat Vu and Paul MacDowell, PharmD. | May 26, 2021

A 64-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital for aortic valve replacement and aortic aneurysm repair. Following surgery, she became hypotensive and was given intravenous fluid boluses and vasopressor support with norepinephrine. On postoperative day 2, a fluid bolus was ordered; however, the fluid bag was attached to the IV line that had the vasopressor at a Y-site and the bolus was initiated. The error was recognized after 15 minutes of infusion, but the patient had ongoing hypotension following the inadvertent bolus. The commentary summarizes the common errors associated with administration of multiple intravenous infusions in intensive care settings and gives recommendations for reducing errors associated with co-administration of infusions.

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Two separate patients undergoing urogynecologic procedures were discharged from the hospital with vaginal packing unintentionally left in the vagina. Both cases are representative of the challenges of identifying and preventing retained orifice packing, the critical role of clear handoff communication, and the need for organizational cultures which encourage health care providers to communicate and collaborate with each other to optimize patient safety.

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David Barnes, MD and William Ken McCallum, MD| February 10, 2021

A 56-year-old women with a history of persistent asthma presented to the emergency department (ED) with shortness of breath and chest tightness that was relieved with Albuterol. She was admitted to the hospital for acute asthma exacerbation. Given a recent history of mobility limitations and continued clinical decompensation, a computed tomography (CT) angiogram of the chest was obtained to rule out pulmonary embolism (PE).  The radiologist summarized his initial impression by telephone to the primary team but the critical finding (“profound evidence of right heart strain") was not conveyed to the primary team. The written radiology impression was not reviewed, nor did the care team independently review the CT images. The team considered her to be low-risk and initiated therapy with a direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC). Later that day, the patient became hemodynamically unstable and was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU). She developed signs of stroke and required ongoing resuscitation overnight before being transitioned to comfort care and died. This commentary discusses the importance of avoiding anchoring bias, effective communication between care team members, and reviewing all available test results to avoid diagnostic errors.

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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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David Maurier, MD and David K. Barnes, MD | November 25, 2020

A 60-year-old male presented to the emergency department (ED) with his partner after an episode of dizziness and syncope when exercising. An electrocardiogram demonstrated non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction abnormalities. A brain CT scan was ordered but the images were not assessed prior to initiation of anticoagulation treatment. While awaiting further testing, the patient’s heart rate slowed and a full-body CT scan demonstrated an intracranial hemorrhage. An emergent craniotomy was performed and the patient later died. The commentary discusses the influence of cognitive errors and the high-risk nature of anticoagulation contributing to this medical error, and the use of systematic interventions such as checklists and forcing functions to mitigate cognitive biases and prevent adverse outcomes.

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Berit Bagley, MSN, Dahlia Zuidema, PharmD, Stephanie Crossen, MD, and Lindsey Loomba, MD | October 28, 2020

A 14-year-old girl with type 1 diabetes (T1D) was admitted to the hospital after two weeks of heavy menstrual bleeding as well as blurred vision, headache and left arm numbness. MRI revealed an acute right middle cerebral artery (MCA) infarct. Further evaluation led to a diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome. The patient was persistently hyperglycemic despite glycemic management using her home insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor. Over the course of her hospitalization, her upper extremity symptoms worsened, and she developed upper extremity, chest, and facial paresthesia. Imaging studies revealed new right MCA territory infarcts as well as splenic and bilateral infarcts. The case describes how suboptimal inpatient management of diabetes technology contributed to persistent hyperglycemia in the setting of an acute infarction. The commentary discusses best practices for optimizing patient safety when managing hospitalized patients on home insulin pumps. 

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Benjamin Stripe, MD, FACC, FSCAI and Dahlia Zuidema, Pharm.D, BC-ADM, CDCES | September 30, 2020

A 44-year old man with hypertension and diabetes was admitted with an open wound on the ball of his right foot that could be probed to the bone and evidence of diabetic ketoacidosis. Over the course of the hospitalization, he had ongoing hypokalemia, low magnesium levels, an electrocardiogram showing a prolonged QT interval, ultimately leading to cardiac arrest due to torsades de pointes (an unusual form of ventricular tachycardia that can be fatal if left untreated). The commentary discusses the use of protocol-based management of chronic medical conditions, the inclusion of interprofessional care teams to coordinate management, and the importance of inter-team communication to identify issues and prevent poor outcomes. 

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Richard P. Dutton, MD MBA| August 26, 2020

A 40-year-old man with multiple comorbidities, including severe aortic stenosis, was admitted for a pathologic pelvic fracture (secondary to osteoporosis) after a fall. During the hospitalization, efforts at mobilization led to a second fracture of the left femoral neck The case describes deviations in the plan for management of anesthesia and postoperative care which ultimately contributed to the patient’s death. The commentary discusses the importance of multidisciplinary planning for frail patients, the contributors to, and consequences of, deviating from these plans, and the use of triggers, early warning systems, and rapid response teams to identify and respond to early signs of decompensation.

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Amparo C. Villablanca, MD, and Gordon X. Wong, MD, MBA | July 29, 2020

A 52-year-old woman with a known history of coronary artery disease and ischemic cardiomyopathy was admitted for presumed community-acquired pneumonia. The inpatient medicine team obtained a “curbside” cardiology consultation which concluded that the worsening left ventricular systolic functioning was in the setting of acute pulmonary edema. Two months post-discharge, a nuclear stress test was suggestive of infarction and a subsequent catheterization showed a 100% occlusion. The commentary discusses cardiovascular-related diagnostic errors affecting women and the advantages, pitfalls and best practices for curbside consultations in acute care settings.

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