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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 (42)

1 - 20 of 42 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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Rebecca K. Krisman, MD, MPH and Hannah Spero, MSN, APRN, NP-C | December 23, 2020

A 65-year-old man with metastatic cancer and past medical history of schizophrenia, developmental delay, and COPD was admitted to the hospital with a spinal fracture. He experienced postoperative complications and continued to require intermittent oxygen and BIPAP in the intensive care unit (ICU) to maintain oxygenation. Upon consultation with the palliative care team about goals of care, the patient with telephonic support of his long time caregiver, expressed his wish to go home and the palliative care team, discharge planner, and social services coordinated plans for transfer home. Although no timeline for the transfer had been established, the patient’s code status was changed to “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) with a plan for him to remain in the ICU for a few days to stabilize. Unfortunately, the patient was transferred out of the ICU after the palliative care team left for the weekend and his respiratory status deteriorated. The patient died in the hospital later that week; he was never able to go home as he had wished. The associated commentary describes how care inconsistent with patient goals and wishes is a form of preventable harm, discusses the need for clear communication between care team, and the importance of providers and healthcare team members serving as advocates for their vulnerable patients.

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Karl Steinberg, MD, CMD, HMDC and Thaddeus Mason Pope, JD, PhD | December 18, 2019
A 63-year-old woman with hematemesis was admitted by a 2nd year medical resident for an endoscopy. The resident did not spend adequate time discussing her code status and subsequently, made a series of errors that failed to honor the patient’s preferences and could have resulted in an adverse outcome for this relatively healthy woman.
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Glen Xiong, MD and Debra Kahn, MD| November 27, 2019
Two different patients were seen in the emergency department a history of excessive alcohol consumption and suicidal ideation along with other medical comorbidities. In both cases, acute medical conditions prevented a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation being completed by psychiatric emergency services. Unfortunately, both patients were discharged after resolution of their medical conditions and were later found dead.
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Stephanie Mueller, MD, MPH| February 1, 2019
To transfer a man with possible sepsis to a hospital with subspecialty and critical care, a physician was unaware of a formal protocol and called a colleague at the academic medical center. The colleague secured a bed, and the patient was sent over. However, neither clinical data nor the details of the patient's current condition were transmitted to the hospital's transfer center, and the receiving physician booked a general ward bed rather than an ICU bed. When the patient arrived, his mentation was altered and breathing was rapid. The nurse called the rapid response team, but the patient went into cardiac arrest.
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).
David J. Lucier, MD, MBA, MPH, and Jeffrey L. Greenwald, MD| September 1, 2018
An older woman with lung cancer that had metastasized to the brain was admitted to the hospital and found to have Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PJP pneumonia), invasive pulmonary aspergillus, diffuse myopathy, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Medication reconciliation revealed that she had been prescribed a high dose of dexamethasone to reduce the brain swelling associated with the cancer. Although the intention had been to taper the steroids after she received radiotherapy for her brain metastases, the corticosteroids were never tapered, and she continued to take high-dose steroids for more than 2 months. Physicians believed that all of her acute issues were a result of the mistakenly high dose of the steroids.
A. Clinton MacKinney, MD, MS, and Nicholas M. Mohr, MD, MS| June 1, 2018
After presenting to a rural emergency department with chest pain, a man with a history of diabetes awaited admission to the hospital. The off-site admitting internist ordered aspirin and a heparin drip, but neither medication was administered. On transfer to the acute care unit 2 hours later, the patient was diaphoretic, somnolent, tachycardic, and borderline hypotensive. The nurse called the internist and realized the heparin drip had never been started. When she went to administer it, the patient was unresponsive, hypotensive, and bradycardic. She called a code blue.
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.
Amy J. Starmer, MD, MPH, and Christopher P. Landrigan, MD, MPH | February 1, 2018
Admitted with an intracranial mass and hemorrhage, a woman with atrial fibrillation had been stable for several days when the ICU team and neurosurgeon decided that the benefits of low-dose DVT prophylaxis would outweigh the risk of serious bleeding. However, no dose or route of administration was specified, and the overnight resident ordered full-dose (rather than the prophylactic dose) anticoagulation. The hemorrhage grew and brain compression worsened, leaving the patient with no chance for meaningful recovery.
Roger Chou, MD| January 1, 2018
A woman who had been taking naltrexone to treat alcohol use disorder was discharged to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) on opioids for pain following spinal fusion surgery. Although her naltrexone was held at the hospital in anticipation of starting opioids for pain control, the clinician performing medication reconciliation at the SNF overrode the drug–drug interaction alert and restarted the naltrexone. The SNF providers did not realize that the naltrexone blocked the pain-relieving effect of the opioids.
Robert L. Wears, MD, PhD| October 1, 2016
While attempting to order a CT scan with only oral contrast for a patient with poor kidney function, an intern ordering a CT for the first time selected "with contrast" from the list, not realizing that meant both oral and intravenous contrast. The patient developed contrast nephropathy.
Patricia Juang, MD, and Kristen Kulasa, MD| April 1, 2016
While hospitalized, a man with diabetes had difficult-to-control blood sugars, with multiple episodes of both critical hypoglycemia and serious hyperglycemia. Because "holds" of the patient's insulin were not clearly documented in the electronic health record and blood sugar readings were not uploaded in real time, providers were unaware of how much insulin had actually been given.
Amy Vogelsmeier, PhD, RN, and Laurel Despins, PhD, RN| January 1, 2016
Admitted to the hospital for chemotherapy, a man with leukemia and diabetes arrived on the medical unit on a busy afternoon and waited until his room was ready. The nurse who checked him in assumed that his admitting orders were completed on the previous shift. That night, the patient took his own insulin from home without a meal and experienced a preventable episode of hypoglycemia.
An elderly woman with a history of dementia underwent surgical resection of new colon cancer, which relieved a bowel obstruction. She developed acute delirium postoperatively, and the team discovered they had neglected to capture her cholinesterase inhibitor patch (a medication for dementia) in the official medication reconciliation list.
Isla M. Hains, PhD| June 1, 2012
An elderly woman was transferred to a tertiary hospital for surgical repair of hip fracture, without complete information or records. The receiving surgeons were not informed that she had a cardiac arrest during induction of anesthesia at the community hospital. Surgery proceeded, but the patient died a few days later.
Jeanne M. Farnan, MD, MHPE; and Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP| May 1, 2012
Inadequate signout to the members of the night float team prevented them from appreciating a patient's mental status changes. Found comatose by the weekend cross-coverage team, the patient had a prolonged ICU stay.
Michelle Mourad, MD, and Stephanie Rennke, MD| March 1, 2012
A woman hospitalized with community-acquired pneumonia was discharged home on antibiotics. Over the next few days, her symptoms worsened, but she was unable to obtain an appointment with her primary physician. The hospital called the patient that day to follow up, determined that she needed a different antibiotic, and prevented a readmission.