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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: August 5, 2022
Samson Lee, PharmD, and Mithu Molla, MD, MBA | August 5, 2022

This WebM&M highlights two cases where home diabetes medications were not reviewed during medication reconciliation and the preventable harm that could have occurred. The commentary discusses the importance of medication reconciliation, how to... 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 (30)

1 - 20 of 30 WebM&M Case Studies

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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Robert Chang, MD, and Scott Flanders, MD| February 1, 2019
A woman was admitted to a hospital's telemetry floor for management of uncontrolled hypertension and palpitations. On the first hospital day, she complained of right arm numbness and weakness and had new difficulty answering questions. The nurse called the hospitalist and relayed the arm symptoms, but not the word-finding difficulty. The hospitalist asked the nurse to call for a neurology consultation. Four hours later, the patient's weakness had progressed; she was now completely unable to move her right arm. At that point, neither the hospitalist nor the neurology consultant had evaluated the patient in person. A stat head CT revealed a large ischemic stroke.
Timothy R. Kreider, MD, PhD, and John Q. Young, MD, MPP, PhD| January 1, 2019
A woman with a history of psychiatric illness presented to the emergency department with agitation, hallucinations, tachycardia, and transient hypoxia. The consulting psychiatric resident attributed the tachycardia and hypoxia to her underlying agitation and admitted her to an inpatient psychiatric facility. Over the next few days, her tachycardia persisted and continued to be attributed to her psychiatric disease. On hospital day 5, the patient was found unresponsive and febrile, with worsening tachycardia, tachypnea, and hypoxia; she had diffuse myoclonus and increased muscle tone. She was transferred to the ICU of the hospital, where a chest CT scan revealed bilateral pulmonary emboli (explaining the tachycardia and hypoxia), and clinicians also diagnosed neuroleptic malignant syndrome (a rare and life-threatening reaction to some psychiatric medications).
Anna Parks, MD, and Margaret C. Fang, MD, MPH | March 1, 2018
One day after reading only the first line of a final ultrasound result (which stated that the patient had a thrombosis), an intern reported to the ICU team that the patient had a DVT. Because she had postoperative bleeding, the team elected to place an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter rather than administer anticoagulants to prevent a pulmonary embolism (PE). The next week, a new ICU team discussed the care plan and questioned the IVC filter. The senior resident reviewed the radiology records and found the ultrasound report actually stated the thrombosis was in a superficial vein with low risk for PE, which meant that the correct step in management of this patient's thrombosis should have been surveillance.
Robert E. O'Connor, MD, MPH| March 1, 2018
Emergency medical service (EMS) providers obtained an electrocardiogram (ECG) in a woman who had developed severe chest pressure at home. The ECG revealed an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). Unfortunately, the ECG failed to transmit to the emergency department (ED) while EMS was en route, so a "Code STEMI" was not activated. Unaware of the original ECG results, ED clinicians obtained a repeat ECG that did not demonstrate the earlier ST segment elevations, and the patient was admitted to the telemetry unit for monitoring overnight. The next morning, lab results revealed an elevated troponin level and another ECG demonstrated she had a large heart attack the previous day. Although the patient was rushed to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, the delay in treatment led to significant loss of cardiac function.
Cristiane Gomes-Lima, MD, and Kenneth D. Burman, MD| November 1, 2017
Two cases in which thyroid function tests were ordered appropriately but not acted upon in a timely fashion illustrate the challenges of thyroid emergencies. The patient in Case #1 had a history of hyperthyroidism and noted not taking his medications for months, yet no one addressed his abnormal thyroid function tests until hospital day 3. He had thyroid storm. In Case #2, providers neglected to follow up on the patient's abnormal thyroid function tests, even though she was taking a medication with a known risk of thyroid toxicity. She had myxedema coma.
Although meningitis and neurosyphilis were ruled out for a woman presenting with a headache and blurry vision, blood tests returned indicating latent (inactive) syphilis. Due to a history of penicillin allergy, the patient was sent for testing for penicillin sensitivity, which was negative. The allergist placed orders for neurosyphilis treatment—a far higher penicillin dose than needed to treat latent syphilis, and a treatment regimen that would have required hospitalization. Upon review, the pharmacist saw that neurosyphilis had been ruled out, contacted the allergist, and the treatment plan was corrected.
Steven L. Cohn, MD| June 1, 2016
When a pregnant woman with fever, nausea, and headaches presented to the emergency department (ED), laboratory tests showed an incredibly high white blood cell count. Although the ED contacted the hematology service for a consultation, the urgency of the patient's clinical status was not conveyed, leading to a fatal delay in diagnosing and treating her acute myeloid leukemia.
Cindy S. Lee, MD, and Christopher P. Hess, MD, PhD| May 1, 2016
An older man with a history of heavy smoking and chest pain underwent a chest CT in the emergency department that showed no evidence of an aortic dissection on the preliminary read. Although the patient followed up soon thereafter with a new primary care physician, it was not discovered until several months later that a suspicious lung nodule had been spotted on the initial CT.
Annette J. Johnson, MD, MS| October 1, 2011
When a hospitalized man developed an arrhythmia, the night float resident checked a radiology report that stated the patient had a DVT. Intervention was started based on that assumption. However, the radiology report had been transcribed incorrectly.
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.
Mitch Rodriguez, MD, MBA; Rebecca Mannel, BS, IBCLC; Donna Frye, RN, MN| September 1, 2008
After several pediatric visits, parents of a newborn with low output and weight loss contact a lactation consultant, who discovered that ankyloglossia (tongue-tie) was preventing the infant from receiving adequate intake from breastfeeding.
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.
Gerald W. Smetana, MD| June 1, 2007
Based on preoperative discussions, a patient undergoing knee replacement expected to receive spinal anesthesia; however, general anesthesia was administered, and the records did not note or explain this change. The patient suffered an unusual complication.
Elizabeth A. Henneman, RN, PhD| May 1, 2007
A young woman with Takayasu's arteritis, a vascular condition that can cause BP differences in each arm, was mistakenly placed on a powerful intravenous vasopressor because of a spurious low BP reading. The medication could have led to serious complications.
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.
Douglas D. Brunette, MD| March 1, 2005
The challenges of examining and imaging a hospitalized morbidly obese patient delay diagnosis, threatening the patient's life.
Richard I. Cook, MD| March 1, 2005
Transferred from one hospital to another for urgent evaluation, a patient is initially misdiagnosed when the CD (containing her radiographs) sent with her displays the older, rather than current, CT scans first.
Bradley A. Sharpe, MD| July 1, 2004
A woman hospitalized for CHF (with no history of diabetes) is given several rounds of insulin and D50, after repeated blood tests show her glucose to be dangerously high, then dangerously low. Turns out, the blood samples were drawn incorrectly and the signouts were incomplete.