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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: 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 (39)

1 - 20 of 39 WebM&M Case Studies

This case involves a 2-year-old girl with acute myelogenous leukemia and thrombocytopenia (platelet count 26,000 per microliter) who underwent implantation of a central venous catheter with a subcutaneous port. The anesthetist asked the surgeon to order a platelet transfusion to increase the child’s platelet count to above 50,000 per microliter. In the post-anesthesia care unit, the patient’s arterial blood pressure started fluctuating and she developed cardiac arrest. A “code blue” was called and the child was successfully resuscitated after insertion of a thoracostomy drainage (chest) tube. Unfortunately, the surgeon damaged an intercostal artery when he inserted the chest tube emergently, which caused further bleeding and two additional episodes of PEA arrest. This commentary addresses the importance of mitigating risk during procedures, balancing education of proceduralist trainees with risk to the patient, and prompt review of diagnostic studies by qualified individuals to identify serious complications.

Candice Sauder, MD, MS, MEd, FACS and Kara T Kleber, MD, MA| January 7, 2022

A 52-year-old woman presented for a lumpectomy with lymphoscintigraphy and sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) after being diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DICS). On the day of surgery, the patient was met in the pre-operative unit by several different providers (pre-operative nurse, resident physician, attending physician, and anethesiology team) to help prepare her for the procedure. In the OR, the surgical team performed two separate time-outs while the patient was being prepped, placed under general anesthesia, and draped. After the attending physician began operating, she realized that no radiotracer dye had been injected for the SNLB – a key process step that was supposed to have occurred prior to the surgery. The nuclear medicine team never saw the patient preoperatively, and none of the staff members or teams realized this until the patient was under general anesthesia with an open incision. The commentary discusses how pre-operative checklist protocols can help multidisciplinary teams avoid communication errors and reduce opportunities for adverse events.

A seven-year-old girl with esophageal stenosis underwent upper endoscopy with esophageal dilation under general anesthesia. During the procedure, she was fully monitored with a continuous arterial oxygen saturation probe, heart rate monitors, two-lead electrocardiography, continuous capnography, and non-invasive arterial blood pressure measurements. The attending gastroenterologist and endoscopist were serially dilating the esophagus with larger and larger rigid dilators when the patient suddenly developed hypotension. She was immediately given a fluid bolus, phenylephrine, and 100% oxygen but still developed cardiac arrest. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was initiated with cardiac massage, but she could not be resuscitated and died. This commentary highlights the role of communication between providers, necessary technical steps to mitigate the risks of upper endoscopy in children, and the importance of education and training for care team members.

Two separate patients undergoing urogynecologic procedures were discharged from the hospital with vaginal packing unintentionally left in the vagina. Both cases are representative of the challenges of identifying and preventing retained orifice packing, the critical role of clear handoff communication, and the need for organizational cultures which encourage health care providers to communicate and collaborate with each other to optimize patient safety.

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By Gary S. Leiserowitz, MD, MS and Herman Hedriana, MD| November 25, 2020

After a failed induction at 36 weeks, a 26-year-old woman underwent cesarean delivery which was complicated by significant postpartum hemorrhage. The next day, the patient complained of severe perineal and abdominal pain, which the obstetric team attributed to prolonged pushing during labor. The team was primarily concerned about hypotension, which was thought to be due to hypovolemia from peri-operative blood loss. After several hours, the patient was transferred to the medical intensive care unit (ICU) with persistent hypotension and severe abdominal and perineal pain. She underwent surgery for suspected necrotizing fasciitis, but necrosis was not found. The patient returned to the surgical ICU but deteriorated; she returned to the operating room, where she was found to have necrotizing soft tissue infection, including in the flanks, labia, and uterus. She underwent extensive surgery followed by a lengthy hospital stay. The accompanying commentary discusses the contribution of knowledge deficits and cognitive biases to diagnostic errors and the importance of structured communications between professionals.

Sierra Rayne Young, Pharm.D. and Iris Chen, Pharm.D., BCPS| November 27, 2019
Three patients were at the same hospital over the course of a few months for vascular access device (VAD) placement and experienced adverse outcomes. The adverse outcomes of two of them were secondary to drugs given for sedation, while the third patient’s situation was somewhat different. Vascular access procedures are extremely common and are relatively short but may require the use of procedural sedation, which is usually very well tolerated but can involve significant risk, as these cases illustrate.
Stephanie Rogers, MD, and Derek Ward, MD| April 1, 2019
An elderly man with a complicated medical history slipped on a rug at home, fell, and injured his hip. Emergency department evaluation and imaging revealed no head injury and a left intertrochanteric hip fracture. Although he was admitted to the orthopedic surgery service, with surgery to fix the fracture initially scheduled for the next day, the operation was delayed by 3 days due to several emergent trauma cases and lack of surgeon availability. He ultimately underwent surgery and was discharged a few days later but was readmitted several weeks later with chest pain and shortness of breath. He was found to have a pulmonary embolism; anticoagulation was initiated. The patient's rehabilitation was delayed, his recovery was prolonged, and he never returned to his baseline functional status.
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.
Sonya P. Mehta, MD, MHS, and Karen B. Domino, MD, MPH| April 1, 2015
During laparoscopic subtotal colon resection for adenocarcinoma, a patient's bladder was accidentally lacerated and surgeons repaired it without difficulty. As nurses set up bladder irrigation equipment, no one noticed the bag of solution was dripping into the power supply of an anesthesiology monitor. Suddenly sparks and flames began shooting from the monitor, and the OR filled with black smoke. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished quickly and neither the patient nor any OR staff was injured.
by John G. DeVine, MD| March 1, 2015
A man with suspected renal cell carcinoma seen on CT in the right kidney was transferred to another hospital for surgical management. The imaging was not sent with him, but hospital records, which incorrectly documented the tumor as being on the left side—were. The second hospital did not obtain repeat imaging, and the surgeon did not see the original CT prior to removing the wrong kidney.
Krishna Moorthy, MD, MS| January 1, 2015
Following outpatient laparoscopic surgery to repair an inguinal hernia, a man with no significant past medical history had high levels of pain at the surgical site and was admitted to the hospital. With sustained pain on postoperative day 3, the patient developed tachycardia with abdominal distension and a low-grade fever. A CT scan revealed a bowel perforation, which required surgery and a lengthy ICU stay due to septicemia.
John H. Eichhorn, MD| January 1, 2015
While undergoing an elective coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) and ablation, an elderly man had a pulmonary artery catheter (PAC) placed to monitor his hemodynamic status. During the operation, the team was informed that another patient needed an emergency CABG. In the rush to attend to the second patient, the PAC in the first was left inflated for a prolonged period, which could have led to a catastrophic complication.
James Stotts, RN, MS, CNS, and Audrey Lyndon, PhD, RNC| May 1, 2014
In the preoperative area, a man scheduled for excision of a groin lipoma received regional anesthesia (right iliac block) and was taken to the operating room. There, without alerting anyone, the patient attempted to rise to use the restroom, but—because his leg was numb—fell and hit his head. He reported acute neck pain and was transferred to the local emergency department.
Ashish C. Sinha, MD, PhD| August 21, 2013
Following general anesthesia for hip repair surgery, an elderly woman with a history of hypertension and obesity developed hypercarbic respiratory failure and was reintubated in the recovery unit. Providers felt the patient had undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea and questioned whether obese patients undergoing anesthesia should receive formal preoperative screening for it.
Kirsten Engel, MD| August 21, 2013
After changing the type of knee repair being done mid-procedure, a surgeon verbally informed the patient of drastically different discharge instructions in the post-anesthesia care unit but did not provide specific written instructions of the changed procedure or recovery plan to her or her husband.
Nicholas Symons, MBChB, MSc| August 21, 2013
An elderly woman with severe abdominal pain was admitted for an emergency laparotomy for presumed small bowel obstruction. Shortly after induction of anesthesia, her heart stopped. She was resuscitated and transferred to the intensive care unit, where she died the next morning. The review committee felt this case represented a diagnostic error, which led to unnecessary surgery and a preventable death.
Robert R. Cima, MD, MA| September 1, 2012
Following successful bypass surgery and mitral valve repair, an elderly man with diabetes, hypertension, and end-stage renal disease continued to attend hemodialysis and other clinic visits regularly. Eight months later, he was admitted to the hospital with shaking chills, confusion, and a collection of pus in his chest. A surgical procedure to free the trapped lung also uncovered a surgical instrument from the previous surgery.
Hugo Q. Cheng, MD| June 1, 2012
Following surgery for hip fracture, an elderly man with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease developed worsening shortness of breath. At this hospital, the orthopedic surgery service has hospitalists comanage its patients. Inadequate communication between the services led to a delay in diagnosing the patient with pneumonia and initiating treatment.
John Starling III, MD| March 1, 2012
Following biopsies for two skin lesions on his left cheek, a patient was sent to an outside surgeon for excision of squamous cell carcinoma. Although the referral included a description and diagram, the wrong lesion was removed.