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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: December 14, 2022
Narath Carlile, MD, MPH, Clyde Lanford Smith, MD, MPH, DTM&H, James H. Maguire, MD, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD | December 14, 2022

This case describes a man in his 70s with a history of multiple myeloma and multiple healthcare encounters for diarrhea in the previous five years, which had always been attributed to viral or unknown causes, without any microbiologic or serologic... Read More

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Naileshni S. Singh, MD | December 14, 2022

A 63-year-old woman was admitted to a hospital for anterior cervical discectomy (levels C4-C7) and plating for cervical spinal stenosis under general anesthesia. The operation was uneventful and intraoperative neuromonitoring was used to help prevent... Read More

Mark Fedyk, PhD, Nathan Fairman, MD, MPH, Patrick S. Romano, MD, MPH, John MacMillan, MD, and Monica Miller, RN, MS, CCRN | December 14, 2022

A 65-year-old man with metastatic liver disease presented to the hospital with worsening abdominal pain after a partial hepatectomy and development of a large ventral hernia. Imaging studies revealed perforated diverticulitis. A goals-of-care... 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 (90)

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Displaying 1 - 20 of 90 WebM&M Case Studies
Carla S. Martin, MSN, RN, CIC, CNL, NEA-BC, FACHE, Shannon K. Reese, BSN, RN, VABC, and Margaret Brown-McManus, MSN, RN, CNL | September 28, 2022

This case describes a 20-year-old woman was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and occlusive thrombus in the right brachial vein surrounding a  peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line (type, gauge, and length of time the PICC had been in place were not noted). The patient was discharged home but was not given any supplies for cleaning the PICC line, education regarding the signs of PICC line infection, or referral to home health services. During follow-up several days after discharge, the patient’s primary care provider noted that the PICC dressing was due to be changed and needed to be flushed, but the outpatient setting lacked the necessary supplies. An urgent referral to home health was placed, but the agency would be unable to attend to the patient for several days. The primary care provider changed the dressing, and the patient was referred to the emergency department for assessment. The commentary summarizes the risks of PICC lines, the role of infection prevention practices during the insertion and care of PICC lines, and the importance of patient education and skill assessment prior to discharge home with a PICC line.

Samantha Brown, MD, John S. Rose, MD, and David K. Barnes, MD| August 31, 2022

A 71-year-old man presented to a hospital-based orthopedic surgery clinic for a follow-up evaluation of his knee and complaints of pain and swelling in his right shoulder. His shoulder joint was found to be acutely inflamed and purulent fluid was aspirated from his shoulder. The patient was sent to the Emergency Department (ED) for suspected septic arthritis. Although the inpatient team was made aware of the incoming patient and admission orders were entered into the electronic health record (EHR) before ED arrival, ED staff were not informed of the incoming patient or the orthopedic surgeon’s plan for immediate admission. When the patient arrived, there were multiple patients in the ED waiting room and multiple boarding patients awaiting inpatient beds. The patient stayed in the ED hallway on “wall time” under the care of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel; no ED physician or nurse was assigned to evaluate or care for the patient because the transfer of care from EMS had not occurred. The patient was on wall time for at least 10 hours before any actions were taken by the ED before being admitted to the orthopedic inpatient service. The commentary discusses challenges associated with ED transfers and ED overcrowding, potential system-level solutions to the “wall time” problem, and the importance of closed-loop communication.

Garima Agrawal, MD, MPH, Pouria Kashkouli, MD, MS, and and Deb Bakerjian PhD, APRN, FAAN, FAANP, FGSA| July 8, 2022

This WebM&M describes a 78-year-old veteran with dementia-associated aggressive behavior who was hospitalized multiple times over several months for hypoxic respiratory failure and atrial fibrillation before being discharged to a skilled nursing facility. The advanced care planning team, in consultation with palliative care and ethics experts, determined that transition to hospice was appropriate. However, these recommendations were verbally communicated and not documented in the chart. The patient developed acute hypoxic respiratory failure the night prior to the planned transition to hospice, was re-admitted to the hospital, and passed away three weeks later at the hospital. The commentary discusses the importance of well-coordinated transitions of care and the importance of active communication and standardized documentation during palliative care transitions.

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 unnecessary procedure; in the second case, the wrong patient received an unnecessary chest x-ray. The commentary highlights the consequences of patient transport errors and strategies to enhance the safety of patient transport and prevent transport-related errors.

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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Saul N. Weingart, MD, MPP, PhD, Gordon D. Schiff MD, and Ted James, MD, FACS | December 23, 2020

After a breast mass was identified by a physician assistant during a routine visit, a 60-year-old woman received a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. The radiology assessment was challenging due to dense breast tissue and ultimately interpreted as “probably benign” findings. When the patient returned for follow-up 5 months later, the mass had increased in size and she was referred for a biopsy. Confusion regarding biopsy scheduling led to delays and, 7 months after initial presentation, the patient was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer involving the axillary nodes and spine. The commentary discusses the diagnostic challenges of potentially discordant findings between imaging and physical exams and the importance of structured inter-professional handoffs and closed-loop referrals in reducing diagnostic delays and associated harm. 

Mithu Molla, MD, Kathie Le, PharmD, Pamela Mendoza, PharmD | August 26, 2020

A 69-year-old man with cognitive impairment and marginal housing was admitted to the hospital for exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). After a four-day admission, the physician arranged for discharge and transport to residential care home and arranged for Meds-to-Beds (M2B), a service that collaborates with a local commercial pharmacy to deliver discharge medications to the bedside prior to the patient leaving the hospital. The medication pick-up was delayed for several hours and there were miscommunications among the pharmacy, social worker, and physician. Ultimately, the patient was discharged without his medications and was readmitted five hours later with dyspnea and hypoxia. The commentary suggests that 7- versus 30-day readmission rates may be more reflective of hospital readmission mitigation efforts and discusses the value of Meds-to-Beds (M2B) programs in improving adherence to medication regimens during transitions of care

Nam K Tran, PhD, HCLD (ABB), FAACC and Ying Liu, MD| February 26, 2020
This commentary involves two separate patients; one with a missing lab specimen and one with a mislabeled specimen. Both cases are representative of the challenges in obtaining and appropriately tracking lab specimens and the potential harms to patients. The commentary describes best practices in managing lab specimens.
Adrianne M Widaman, PhD, RD | December 18, 2019
A 62-year-old man with a history of malnutrition-related encephalopathy was admitted for possible aspiration pneumonia complicated by empyema and coagulopathy. During the hospitalization, he was uncooperative and exhibited signs of delirium. For a variety of reasons, he spent two weeks in the hospital with minimal oral intake and without receiving most of his oral medications, putting him at risk for complications and adverse outcomes.
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.
Lina Bergman, RN, MSc, and Wendy Chaboyer, RN, PhD| February 1, 2019
Following surgery under general anesthesia, a boy was extubated and brought to postanesthesia care unit (PACU). Due to the patient's age and length of the surgery, the PACU anesthesiologist ordered continuous pulse-oximetry monitoring for 24 hours. Deemed stable to leave the PACU, the boy was transported to the regular floor. When the nurse went to place the patient on pulse oximetry, she realized he was markedly hypoxic. She administered oxygen by face mask, but he became bradycardic and hypotensive and a code blue was called.
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).
Brian F. Olkowski, DPT; Mary Ravenel, MSN; and Michael F. Stiefel, MD, PhD| April 1, 2018
Following elective lumbar drain placement to treat hydrocephalus and elevated intracranial pressures, a woman was admitted to the ICU for monitoring. After the patient participated in prescribed physical therapy on day 5, she complained of headaches, decreased appetite, and worsening visual problems—similar to her symptoms on admission. The nurse attributed the complaints to depression and took no action. Early in the morning, the patient was found barely arousable. The lumbar drain had dislodged, and a CT scan revealed the return of extensive hydrocephalus.
Nancy Staggers, PhD, RN| October 1, 2017
Hospitalized with sepsis secondary to an infected IV line through which she was receiving treprostnil (a high-alert medication used to treat pulmonary hypertension), a woman was transferred to interventional radiology for placement of a new permanent catheter once the infection cleared. Sign-off between departments included a warning not to flush the line since it would lead to a dangerous overdose. However, while attempting to identify an infusion pump alarm, a radiology technician accidentally flushed the line, which led to a near code situation.
Michael E. Detsky, MD, MSc| April 1, 2016
During a hospitalization after a cardiac arrest, an older man underwent placement of a PEG tube for nutrition, and an abdominal radiograph the next day showed "free air under the diaphragm." Although the resident got a "curbside consult" from surgery saying this finding should be monitored, the consult was not documented in the chart. Two days later, the patient was urgently taken to surgery to repair a large gastric perforation and spillage of tube feeds into the peritoneum and then transferred to the ICU in septic shock.
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.
Tosha Wetterneck, MD, MS| December 1, 2015
Hospitalized with nonketotic hyperglycemia, a man was placed on IV insulin and his blood sugars improved. That evening, the patient was transferred to the ICU with chest pain and his IV insulin order was changed to sliding scale subcutaneous insulin. However, over the next several hours, the patient again developed hyperglycemia.
LauraEllen Ashcraft, MSW, and Jeremy M. Kahn, MD, MS| September 1, 2015
An 18-year-old who sustained a traumatic brain injury after a motor vehicle collision required a decompressive craniectomy, a prolonged stay in the adult trauma intensive care unit, and a second operation (cranioplasty) several weeks later. After the second procedure, the patient was transferred to a pediatric acute rehabilitation facility, had new onset seizures the next day, and was transferred to an acute pediatric hospital for evaluation. Findings indicated that another surgical procedure was needed, and he was then transferred back to the adult trauma facility where he had his surgeries.
Megumi J. Okumura, MD, MAS, and Roberta G. Williams, MD| May 1, 2015
A 21-year-old woman with a history of Marfan syndrome complicated by aortic root dilation presented to the emergency department with abdominal pain and was found to be pregnant. It was her second pregnancy; she had a therapeutic abortion 4 years earlier due to the risk of aortic rupture during pregnancy. At that time, the patient had been advised to have her aortic root surgically repaired in the near future. However, after the patient turned 18, she did not receive regular follow-up care or pre-conception or contraception counseling despite the risk to her health should she become pregnant.