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
This case involves a procedural sedation error in a 3-year-old patient who presented to the... Read More
This Spotlight Case highlights two cases of falls in older patients in nursing homes. The commentary discusses how risk factors... Read More
This case represents a known but generally preventable complication of calcium chloride infusion, eventually necessitating surgical... Read More
All WebM&M: Case Studies (34)
- Communication Improvement(26)
- Quality Improvement Strategies(13)
- Education and Training(12)
- Human Factors Engineering(7)
- Culture of Safety(6)
- Specialization of Care(6)
- Technologic Approaches(6)
- Logistical Approaches(4)
- Error Reporting and Analysis(2)
- Legal and Policy Approaches(2)
- Care Coordination(1)
- Policies and Operations(1)
This case describes a 13-year-old girl who presented to several health care providers with typical symptoms, physical signs, and early laboratory findings suggestive of adrenal insufficiency (AI) yet the diagnosis was delayed for several months due to diagnostic biases. After she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during a visit to her local emergency department and was airlifted to a tertiary care facility, she was found to be in adrenal crisis secondary to Addison’s disease. The commentary summarizes common diagnostic hazards and the importance of including rare and dangerous conditions (“zebras”) in the differential diagnosis for common complaints to prevent diagnostic errors.
A 71-year-old man presented to his physician with rectal bleeding and pain, which was attributed to radiation proctitis following therapy for adenocarcinoma of the prostate. He subsequently developed a potentially life-threatening complication of sepsis while awaiting follow up care for a spontaneous rectal perforation. The commentary addresses the importance of early identification and timely intervention in the event of treatment failure and the post-discharge follow-up programs to improve care coordination and communication during transitions of care.
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 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.
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.