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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 (21)

1 - 20 of 21 WebM&M Case Studies
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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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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William Ventres, MD, MA| March 1, 2014
A teenager presented to an urgent care clinic with new bumps and white spots near her tongue. Although she was diagnosed with herpetic gingivostomatitis, the after-visit summary incorrectly populated the diagnosis of "thrush" from the triage information, which was not updated with the correct diagnosis. The mistake on the printout caused confusion for the patient's mother and necessitated several follow-up communications to clear up.
Robert Hirschtick, MD| July 1, 2012
An elderly man presented to an emergency department (ED) with new onset chest pain. In reviewing the patient's electronic medical record (EMR), the ED physician noted a history of "PE," but the patient denied ever having a pulmonary embolus. Further investigation in the EMR revealed that, many years earlier, the abbreviation was intended to stand for "physical examination." Someone had mistakenly copied and pasted PE under past medical history, and the error was carried forward for years.
Wendy G. Anderson, MD, MS| February 1, 2012
An elderly man hospitalized with multiple medical conditions decided (with his family's blessing) on a DNR/DNI order. Following treatment, the patient was discharged home. Just days later a paramedic transporting the patient to the emergency department asked the family about advanced directives and they requested that "everything be done."
Eugene Litvak, PhD, and Sarah A. Bernheim| November 1, 2011
Following hospitalization for suicidality, a woman was discharged to the care of her outpatient psychiatrist, a senior resident who was about to graduate. At her last visit in June before the year-end transfer, the patient was unable to schedule a follow-up visit because the new residents' schedules were not yet in the system. The delay in care had deadly consequences.
Margaret Fang, MD, MPH; Raman Khanna, MD, MAS| July 1, 2011
Following hospitalization for community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man with a history of dementia, falls, and atrial fibrillation is discharged on antibiotics but no changes to his anticoagulation medication. One week later, the patient’s INR was dangerously high.
Ben-Tzion Karsh, PhD| March 1, 2011
A patient requiring orthopedic follow-up after an emergency department visit missed his appointment, and a secretary canceled the referral in the electronic medical record to minimize black marks on the hospital’s 30-day referral quality scorecard. Because the primary physician did not receive notice of the cancellation, follow-up was delayed.
Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH; Dean F. Sittig, PhD; Maureen Layden, MD, MPH| November 1, 2010
At two different hospitals, patients were instructed to continue home medications, even though their medication lists had errors that could have led to significant adverse consequences.
Lydia C. Siegel, MD; Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH| January 1, 2009
Four months after surgery, a woman with osteosarcoma receiving outpatient chemotherapy was admitted for possible cellulitis. Discharged home on methotrexate and antibiotics, the patient developed methotrexate toxicity, partly due to a drug interaction.
Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH| October 1, 2008
An elderly, non–English-speaking man with diabetes was admitted to the hospital twice in 8 days due to hypoglycemia. At discharge, the patient was instructed not to take any antidiabetic medications. In between hospitalizations, he saw his primary care physician, who restarted an antidiabetic medication.
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.
David N. Juurlink, BPhm, MD, PhD| July 1, 2006
A patient presenting to the ED with chest pain was ruled out for MI, and discharged on an ACE inhibitor. Two weeks later, he returns with a critically elevated potassium level, has a cardiac arrest, and dies.
Elizabeth A. Howell, MD, MPP; Mark R. Chassin, MD, MPP, MPH| May 1, 2006
A woman with a fractured right foot receives spinal anesthesia and nearly has surgery for trimalleolar fracture and dislocation of the left ankle. Only immediately prior to surgery did the team realize that the x-ray was not hers.
Glenn Flores, MD| April 1, 2006
With no one to interpret for them and pharmacy instructions printed only in English, non–English-speaking parents give their child a 12.5-fold overdose of a medication.
Ann Williamson, PhD, RN| May 1, 2004
An antenatal room left in disarray causes a charge nurse to search for the missing patient. Investigation reveals that a resident had performed an ultrasound on a nurse friend rather than a true "patient."
Jeanne Mandelblatt, MD, MPH| February 1, 2004
A physician who does not accept Medicaid turns away a woman needing evaluation for 2 years of profuse vaginal bleeding. She later presents to the ED, where examination reveals invasive cervical cancer.
Christopher P. Landrigan, MD, MPH| October 1, 2003
An infant sent to the ED for an LP is mistakenly redirected to the lab for a "blood test"; hours later, at a second ED, he is found to have meningitis.
James G. Adams, MD| June 1, 2003
Abdominal pain misdiagnosed in an ED patient leads to ruptured appendix, multiple complications, and prolonged hospitalization.