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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... 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 (43)

1 - 20 of 43 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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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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
Ayse P. Gurses, PhD, and Peter Doyle, PhD| December 1, 2014
An elderly man was being prepared for discharge after being hospitalized for an exacerbation of congestive heart failure. His nurse failed to notice that the tubing of the patient's sequential compression devices (in place to prevent DVT) was caught on the bed wheel and had unlocked the bed when she raised it. When the patient attempted to get up later, the bed rolled out from under him and he fell, breaking his hip. One week after surgery, the patient experienced a cardiac arrest from a massive pulmonary embolism and died.
Michelle Feil, MSN, RN| June 1, 2014
Following removal of a central venous catheter placed during his admission for a prolonged course of intravenous antibiotics, a young man with a history of Behçet disease was discharged from the hospital. Shortly thereafter, he presented to the emergency department with acute onset shortness of breath and a "whistling sound" coming from his neck. Diagnosed with air embolism, he was admitted to the ICU.
Karen Ousey, PhD, RGN| February 1, 2014
A patient admitted for acute liver failure, acute renal failure, respiratory failure, and hepatic encephalopathy had a rectal tube placed to manage diarrhea. Two weeks into his hospitalization, dark red liquid stool was noted in the rectal tube, and the patient was found to have a large ulcerated area in the rectum, likely caused by the tube.
Roy Ilan, MD, MSc| May 1, 2013
A woman was emergently admitted for surgery for acute appendicitis. Although the patient had a chest port for breast cancer chemotherapy, the surgeon demanded that a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) be placed. The patient developed blood clots from the PICC, and surgery was cancelled. Significant complications, including perforation, peritonitis, and prolonged hospitalization, arose from managing the appendicitis conservatively.
Joseph I. Boullata, PharmD, RPh, BCNSP| April 1, 2013
A 3-year-old boy hospitalized with anemia who was on chronic total parenteral nutrition was given an admixture with a level of sodium 10-fold higher than intended. Despite numerous warnings and checks along the way, the error still reached the patient.
Mark Ault, MD, and Bradley Rosen, MD, MBA| February 1, 2013
A woman found unresponsive at home presented to the ED via ambulance. The cardiology team used the central line placed during resuscitation to deliver medications and fluids during pacemaker insertion. Hours later, a chest radiograph showed whiteout of the right lung, and clinicians realized that the tip of the line was actually within the lung.
Nancy Moureau, BSN, RN, CRNI, CPUI, VA-BC| December 1, 2012
A woman undergoing treatment for myasthenia gravis via PICC developed extensive catheter-related thrombosis, bacteremia, and sepsis, and ultimately died. Although the PICC line was placed at one facility, the patient was receiving treatment at another, raising questions about who had responsibility for the line.