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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 unnecessary... 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 (53)

1 - 20 of 53 WebM&M Case Studies
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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Marissa G. Vadi, MD, MPH, and Mathew R. Malkin, MD | October 27, 2021

A 6-week-old infant underwent a craniotomy and excision of abnormal brain tissue for treatment of hemimegalencephaly and epilepsy. A right femoral central venous catheter and an arterial catheter were inserted, as well as 22-gauge intravenous catheter inserted into the external jugular vein, which was covered with surgical drapes.  During the surgical procedure, the neurosurgeon adjusted the patient’s head, displacing the external jugular intravenous catheter into the subcutaneous tissue.  The catheter’s dislodgment went unnoticed due to its position underneath the surgical drapes. The commentary discusses the importance intraoperative monitoring of intravenous catheters and the use of surgical safety checklists to improve communication and prevent surgical complications.

Claire Manske, MD | August 26, 2020

A 56-year-old female received a digital tourniquet around the base of her left big toe during an ablation and excision of a deformed in-grown toenail. After the procedure, a dressing was applied and the patient was discharged 4 hours later. During the follow-up visit two-days later, the dressing was removed and revealed that the tourniquet was still in place and constricting the toe. The toe became necrotic and developed gangrene, and was amputated. The commentary discusses the safe use of digital tourniquets, the importance of including tourniquets in the surgical count process, and ensuring tourniquets are removed in a timely manner.

Catherine Chia, MD and Mithu Molla, MD, MBA | May 27, 2020
A 55-year old man was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia requiring intravenous antibiotics. After three intravenous lines infiltrated, the attending physician on call gave a verbal order to have a percutaneous intravenous central venous catheter placed by interventional radiology the next morning. However, the nurse on duty incorrectly entered an order for a tunneled dialysis catheter, and the radiologist then inserted the wrong type of catheter. The commentary explores safety issues with verbal orders and interventional radiology procedures.
Mikael Broman, MD, PhD| April 29, 2020
A 54-year old women with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was admitted for chronic respiratory failure. Due to severe hypoxemia, she was intubated, mechanically ventilated and required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). During the hospitalization, she developed clotting problems, which necessitated transfer to the operating room to change one of the ECMO components. On the way back to the intensive care unit, a piece of equipment became snagged on the elevator door and the system alarmed. The perfusionist arrived 30-minutes later and realized that the ECMO machine was introducing room air to the patient’s circulation, leading to air embolism. The patient became severely hypotensive and bradycardic, and despite aggressive attempts at resuscitation, she died.
Neal L. Benowitz, MD| April 1, 2019
A woman who required oxygen at home via nasal cannula and used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine at night was admitted for an exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease without any signs of infection. During her hospital stay, she continued to require 5 liters of oxygen by nasal cannula. Although the patient had received smoking cessation education and no longer smoked regular cigarettes, she did continue to vape with an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). Having not been told to avoid vaping in the hospital, the patient took a puff on her e-cigarette while she was receiving oxygen through her nasal cannula and sparked an explosion. She ripped off the nasal cannula, which had melted, and sustained burns to her face and hand, resulting in a prolonged hospitalization for burn care and extensive pain management.
C. Craig Blackmore, MD, MPH| March 1, 2019
A woman with multiple myeloma required placement of a central venous catheter for apheresis. The outpatient oncologist intended to order a nontunneled catheter via computerized provider order entry but accidentally ordered a tunneled catheter. The interventional radiologist thought the order was unusual but didn't contact the oncologist. A tunneled catheter was placed without complications. When the patient presented for apheresis, providers recognized the wrong catheter had been placed, and the patient underwent an additional procedure.
In a simulated cardiac resuscitation case of a 5-year-old boy found pulseless and apneic in the bathtub by a parent, many interprofessional teams had difficulty with resuscitation due to a lack of interoperability between the prestocked disposable laryngoscope blades and handles on the Broselow cart (a proprietary system designed to facilitate finding appropriate-sized equipment for pediatric patients requiring lifesaving interventions) with the emergency department's actual stock of blades and handles. This incompatibility led to significant delays and some failures to intubate. Teams often did not recognize the incompatibility and spent unnecessary time replacing batteries while others called for backup airway teams.
Rita L. McGill, MD, MS| July 1, 2018
Admitted to the hospital with an ulcer on his right foot, a man with diabetes and stage IV chronic kidney disease had an MRI concerning for osteomyelitis, and a bone biopsy showed chronic inflammation with cultures positive for methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus. To administer outpatient parenteral antimicrobial therapy, interventional radiology attempted to place a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) in the right brachial vein multiple times but failed. They then placed it in the left brachial vein. The patient completed 6 weeks of antibiotic therapy and wound care, and the PICC was removed. Five months later with worsening renal function and hyperphosphatemia, the patient required dialysis access, but he was not a candidate for arteriovenous fistula placement since the many venipuncture attempts during PICC placement resulted in poor vein quality.
Deborah Debono, PhD, RN, and Tracy Levett-Jones, PhD, RN| July 1, 2018
A young adult with a progressive neurological disorder presented to an emergency department from a nursing home with a dislodged GJ tube. As a workaround to maintain patency when the GJ tube was dislodged, nursing home staff had inserted a Foley catheter into the ostomy, inflated the Foley bulb in the stomach, and tied the distal portion of the catheter in a loose knot. When the patient went to interventional radiology for new GJ tube placement, clinicians found no Foley but inserted a new GJ tube. Discharged to the nursing home, the patient was readmitted 2 days later with fever and increasing abdominal distention. An abdominal CT scan showed an obstructing foreign body in the small bowel.
Jamie M. Robertson, PhD, MPH, and Charles N. Pozner, MD| April 1, 2018
A clinical team decided to use a radial artery approach for cardiac catheterization in a woman with morbid obesity. It took multiple attempts to access her radial artery. After catheter insertion, she experienced pain and pressure in her arm and chest. Review of the angiogram demonstrated the presence of an air embolism in the left coronary artery, introduced during the catheter insertion. Due to the difficulty of the procedure, the technician had failed to hold the syringe at the proper angle and introduced an air bubble into the patient's vessel.
Nancy Staggers, PhD, RN| October 1, 2017
Hospitalized with sepsis secondary to an infected IV line through which she was receiving treprostnil (a high-alert medication used to treat pulmonary hypertension), a woman was transferred to interventional radiology for placement of a new permanent catheter once the infection cleared. Sign-off between departments included a warning not to flush the line since it would lead to a dangerous overdose. However, while attempting to identify an infusion pump alarm, a radiology technician accidentally flushed the line, which led to a near code situation.
Vinod K. Bhutani, MD, and Ronald J. Wong| October 1, 2017
A newborn with elevated total serum bilirubin (TSB) due to hemolytic disease was placed on a mattress with embedded phototherapy lights for treatment, but the TSB continued to climb. The patient was transferred to the neonatal ICU for an exchange transfusion. The neonatologist requested testing of the phototherapy lights, and their irradiance level was found to be well below the recommended level. The lights were replaced, the patient's TSB level began to drop, and the exchange transfusion was aborted.
Lekshmi Santhosh, MD, and V. Courtney Broaddus, MD| June 1, 2017
A woman with pneumothorax required urgent chest tube placement. After she showed improvement during her hospital stay, the pulmonary team requested the tube be disconnected and clamped with a follow-up radiograph 1 hour later. However, 3 hours after the tube was clamped, no radiograph had been done and the patient was found unresponsive, in cardiac arrest.
Barbara Haas, MD, PhD, and Lesley Gotlib Conn, PhD| May 1, 2017
Admitted to the ICU with septic shock, a man with a transplanted kidney developed hypotension and required new central venous access. Since providers anticipated using the patient's left internal jugular vein catheter for re-starting hemodialysis (making it unsuitable to use for resuscitation), the ICU team placed the central line in the right femoral vein. However, they failed to recognize that his transplanted kidney was on the right side, which meant that femoral catheter placement on that side was contraindicated.
A man with a history of cardiac disease was brought to the emergency department for septic shock of possible intra-abdominal origin. A vasopressor was ordered. However, rather than delivering it through a central line, the norepinephrine was infused through a peripheral line. The medication extravasated into the subcutaneous tissue of the patient's arm. Despite attempts to salvage the patient's wrist and fingers, three of his fingertips had to be amputated.
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.
Vineet Chopra, MD, MSc| February 1, 2016
Hospitalized with poorly controlled diabetes, a man had a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) placed for intravenous pain medications, intravenous fluids, and parenteral nutrition. The next day, the patient complained of headache, unilateral vision loss, and left-sided tingling and numbness. Misplacement of the PICC in a left-sided superior vena cava had led to embolic strokes.
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.
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.