Skip to main content

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: May 16, 2022
Garima Agrawal, MD, MPH, and Mithu Molla, MD, MBA | May 16, 2022

This WebM&M describes two cases involving patients who became unresponsive in unconventional locations – inside of a computed tomography (CT) scanner and at an outpatient transplant clinic – and strategies to ensure that all healthcare teams are... Read More

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... 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 (56)

1 - 20 of 56 WebM&M Case Studies
Jeremiah Duby, PharmD, Kendra Schomer, PharmD, Victoria Oyewole, PharmD, Delia Christian, RN, BSN, CNRN, and Sierra Young, PharmD| May 26, 2021

A 65-year-old man with a history of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and coronary artery disease was transferred from a Level III trauma center to a Level I trauma center with lower extremity paralysis after a ground level fall complicated by a 9-cm abdominal aortic aneurysm and cervical spinal cord injury. Post transfer, the patient was noted to have rapidly progressive ascending paralysis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed severe spinal stenosis involving C3-4 and post-traumatic cord edema/contusion involving C6-7. A continuous intravenous (IV) infusion of norepinephrine was initiated to maintain adequate spinal cord perfusion, with a target mean arterial pressure goal of greater than 85 mmHg. Unfortunately, norepinephrine was incorrectly programmed into the infusion pump for a weight-based dose of 0.5 mcg/kg/min rather than the ordered dose of 0.5 mcg/min, resulting in a dose that was 70 times greater than intended. The patient experienced bradycardia and cardiac arrest and subsequently died.

Kelly Haas, MD, and Andrew Lee, PharmD| May 26, 2021

A 4-year-old (former 33-week premature) boy with a complex medical history including gastroschisis and subsequent volvulus in infancy resulting in short bowel syndrome, central venous catheter placement, and home parenteral nutrition (PN) dependence was admitted with hyponatremia. A pharmacist from the home infusion pharmacy notified the physician that an error in home PN mixing had been identified; a new file had been created for this chronic PN patient by the home infusion pharmacy and the PN formula in this file was transcribed erroneously without sodium acetate. This error resulted in only 20% of the patient’s prescribed sodium being mixed into the home PN solution for several weeks, resulting in hyponatremia and unnecessary hospital admission. The commentary highlights the importance of collaboration between clinicians and patients’ families for successful home PN and the roles of communication process maps, standardizing PN compounding, and order verification in reducing the risk of medication error.

Deborah Plante, MD, and Andrea Gonzalez Falero, MD| April 28, 2021

A 24-year-old woman with type 1 diabetes presented to the emergency department with worsening abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Her last dose of insulin was one day prior to presentation. She stopped taking insulin because she was not tolerating any oral intake. The admitting team managed her diabetes with subcutaneous insulin but thought the patient did not meet criteria for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), but after three inpatient days with persistent hyperglycemia, blurred vision, and altered mental status, a consulting endocrinologist diagnosed DKA. The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) and an insulin drip was started, after which the patient’s metabolic derangements normalized and her symptoms resolved. The commentary discusses the importance of educating patients and providers on risk factors for DKA and symptoms in type 1 diabetics, the use of a stepwise approach to diagnosing acid-based disorders, clinical decision support tools to guide physiologic insulin replacement, and the role of closed-loop communication to decrease medical error.

A 58-year-old female receiving treatment for transformed lymphoma was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with E. coli bacteremia and colitis secondary to neutropenia, and ongoing hiccups lasting more than 48 hours. She was prescribed thioridazine 10 mg twice daily for the hiccups and received four doses without resolution; the dose was then increased to 15 mg and again to 25 mg without resolution. When she was transferred back to the inpatient floor, the pharmacist, in reviewing her records and speaking with the resident physician, thioridazine (brand name Mellaril) had been prescribed when chlorpromazine (brand name Thorazine) had been intended. The commentary discusses the use of computerized physician order entry (CPOE) to reduce prescribing errors in inpatient settings and the importance of having a pharmacist on the patient care team to avoid prescribing errors involving less commonly prescribed medications. 

Janeane Giannini, PharmD, Melinda Wong, PharmD, William Dager, PharmD, Scott MacDonald, MD, and Richard H. White, MD | June 24, 2020
A male patient with history of femoral bypasses underwent thrombolysis and thrombectomy for a popliteal artery occlusion. An error in the discharge education materials resulted in the patient taking incorrect doses of rivaroxaban post-discharge, resulting in a readmission for recurrent right popliteal and posterior tibial occlusion. The commentary discusses the challenges associated with prescribing direct-action oral anticoagulants (DOACs) and how computerized clinical decision support tools can promote adherence to guideline recommendations and mitigate the risk of error, and how tools such as standardized teaching materials and teach-back can support patient understanding of medication-related instructions.
Erika Cutler, PharmD, and Delani Gunawardena, MD | December 18, 2019
A 55-year-old man visited his oncologist for a follow-up appointment after completing chemotherapy and reported feeling well with his abdominal and bony pain well controlled with opioid therapy.  At the end of the visit, his oncologist reordered his pain medication and, due to a best practice alert, also prescribed naloxone but failed to provide any instruction on its use. Later that day, the patient took the naloxone along with his opioid pain medication and within a minute experienced severe abdominal and bony pain, requiring admission to the emergency department.
Tobias Dreischulte, MPharm, MSc, PhD| July 2, 2019
During a primary care visit, a woman with morbid obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, heart failure, and diabetes mellitus complained of worsening lower extremity edema over the past few weeks. Her physician prescribed a thiazide diuretic. The patient presented to the emergency department (ED) 10 days later with 3 days of drowsiness and confusion. Laboratory results revealed severe hyponatremia and hypokalemia. She had a seizure in the ED and was admitted to the intensive care unit. Both the critical care provider and a nephrologist felt the diuretic had caused the electrolyte abnormalities.
Take the Quiz
Candy Tsourounis, PharmD, and Katayoon Kathy Ghomeshi, PharmD| July 2, 2019
An elderly man admitted for agitation and suicidal ideation was prescribed clozapine by psychiatry. The clozapine Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program requires both prescribers and patients to be registered in an online database. A REMS-registered attending psychiatrist entered the initial order (12.5 mg). During the hospitalization, the medicine intern, who was not registered with the REMS program, titrated the dose to 25 mg daily and also wrote the discharge prescription. The outpatient pharmacist noted the intern was not registered and contacted the attending psychiatrist, who wrote a new prescription. The patient's family was unable to pick up the prescription for 3 days. During this gap in therapy, the patient experienced recurrence of paranoia and required readmission to the hospital.
Audrey Lyndon, PhD, RN, and Stephanie Lim, MD| June 1, 2019
During surgery for a forearm fracture, a woman experienced a drop in heart rate to below 50 beats per minute. As the consultant anesthesiologist had stepped out to care for another patient, the resident asked the technician to draw up atropine for the patient. When the technician returned with an unlabeled syringe without the medication vial, the resident was reluctant to administer the medication, but did so without a double check after the technician insisted it was atropine. Over the next few minutes, the patient's blood pressure spiked to 250/135 mm Hg.
Nicole M. Acquisto, PharmD, and Daniel J. Cobaugh, PharmD| March 1, 2019
Seen in the emergency department, a man with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus had not taken insulin for 3 days. His blood glucose levels were in the 800s with an anion-gap acidosis and positive beta hydroxybutyrate. While awaiting an ICU bed for treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis, the patient received fluids, an insulin drip was started, and blood glucose levels were monitored hourly. When lab results showed he was improving, the team decided to convert his insulin drip to subcutaneous long-acting insulin. However, both the intern and the resident ordered 50 units of insulin, and the patient received both doses—causing his blood glucose level to dip into the 30s.
Following urgent catheter-directed thrombolysis to relieve acute limb ischemia caused by thrombosis of her left superficial femoral artery, an elderly woman was admitted to the ICU. While ordering a heparin drip, the resident was unaware that the EHR order set had undergone significant changes and inadvertently ordered too low a heparin dose. Although the pharmacist and bedside nurse noticed the low dose, they assumed the resident selected the dose purposefully. Because the patient was inadequately anticoagulated, she developed extensive thrombosis associated with the catheter and sheath site, requiring surgical intervention for critical limb ischemia (including amputation of the contralateral leg above the knee).
Elise Orvedal Leiten, MD, and Rune Nielsen, MD, PhD| January 1, 2019
Hospitalized in the ICU with hypoxic respiratory failure due to community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man had increased pulmonary secretions on hospital day 2 for which the critical care provider decided to perform bedside bronchoscopy. Following the procedure, the patient was difficult to arouse, nearly apneic, and required intubation. The care team paused and discovered that after the patient had received 2 mg of intravenous midalozam, his IV line had been flushed with an additional 10 mg of the benzodiazepine, rather than the intended normal saline. This high dose of midazolam led to the respiratory failure requiring intubation. On top of that, instead of normal saline, lidocaine had been used for the lung lavage.
Jennifer Faig, MD, and Jessica A. Zerillo, MD, MPH| June 1, 2018
Admitted to the oncology service for chemotherapy treatment, a woman with leukemia was noted to be neutropenic on hospital day 6. She had some abdominal discomfort and had not had a bowel movement for 2 days. The overnight physician ordered a suppository without realizing that the patient was neutropenic and immunosuppressed. Unaware that suppositories are contraindicated in neutropenic patients, the nurse administered the suppository. The patient developed a fever soon after receiving the suppository and required transfer to the intensive care unit for hypotension and management of septic shock.
Mary G. Amato, PharmD, MPH, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD| January 1, 2018
Admitted for intravenous diuretic therapy and control of his atrial fibrillation, an older man was mistakenly given metoprolol tartrate instead of his home dose of extended-release metoprolol succinate. That night, he developed atrioventricular block, experienced a pulseless electrical activity cardiac arrest, and died. Review of the case identified problems in the human factors design in the computerized order entry system that contributed to the prescribing error.
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.
Chris Vincent, PhD| December 1, 2016
Admitted to the hospital for treatment of a hip fracture, an elderly woman with end-stage dementia was placed on the hospice service for comfort care. The physician ordered a morphine drip for better pain control. The nurse placed the normal saline, but not the morphine drip, on a pump. Due to the mistaken setup, the morphine flowed into the patient at uncontrolled rate.
John D. McGreevey III, MD| November 1, 2016
A transition from paper orders to CPOE left out an important safety reminder, resulting in mismanagement of an elderly patient's low potassium and magnesium levels. This led to a fatal arrhythmia. The paper-based electrolyte order set had provided a reminder that magnesium replacement should accompany potassium replacement; however, in the computerized system, a separate order set was necessary for each electrolyte.
Julia Adler-Milstein, PhD| August 21, 2016
Because the hospital and the ambulatory clinic used separate electronic health records on different technology platforms, information on a new outpatient oxycodone prescription for a patient scheduled for total knee replacement was not available to the surgical team. The anesthesiologist placed an epidural catheter to administer morphine, and postoperatively the patient required naloxone and intubation.
After leaving Hospital X against medical advice, a man with paraplegia presented to the emergency department of Hospital Y with pain and fever. The patient was diagnosed with sepsis and admitted to Hospital Y for management. In the night, the nurse found the patient unresponsive and called a code blue. The patient was resuscitated and transferred to the ICU, where physicians determined that the arrest was due to acute rupturing of his red blood cells (hemolysis), presumably caused by a reaction to the antibiotic. Later that day, the patient's records arrived from three hospitals where he had been treated recently. One record noted that he had previously experienced a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic, which was new information for the providers at Hospital Y.
Krishnan Padmakumari Sivaraman Nair, DM| August 21, 2015
A 5-year-old boy with transverse myelitis presented to the rehabilitation medicine clinic for scheduled quarterly botulinum toxin injections to his legs for spasticity. Halfway through the course of injections, the patient's mother noted her son was tolerating the procedure "much better than 3 weeks earlier"—the patient had been getting extra injections without the physicians' knowledge. Physicians discussed the risks of too-frequent injections with the family. Fortunately, the patient had no adverse effects from the additional injections.