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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 (17)

1 - 17 of 17 WebM&M Case Studies
Allan S. Frankel, MD; Kathryn C. Adair, PhD; and J. Bryan Sexton, PhD| June 1, 2019
A proceduralist went to perform ultrasound and thoracentesis on an elderly man admitted to the medicine service with bilateral pleural effusions. Unfortunately, he scanned the wrong patient (the patient had the same last name and was in the room next door). When the patient care assistant notified the physician of the error, he proceeded to scan the correct patient. He later nominated the assistant for a Stand Up for Safety Award.
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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.
Vinod K. Bhutani, MD, and Ronald J. Wong| October 1, 2017
A newborn with elevated total serum bilirubin (TSB) due to hemolytic disease was placed on a mattress with embedded phototherapy lights for treatment, but the TSB continued to climb. The patient was transferred to the neonatal ICU for an exchange transfusion. The neonatologist requested testing of the phototherapy lights, and their irradiance level was found to be well below the recommended level. The lights were replaced, the patient's TSB level began to drop, and the exchange transfusion was aborted.
John D. Halamka, MD, MS, and Deven McGraw, JD, MPH, LLM| August 21, 2015
A hospitalized patient with advanced dementia was to undergo a brain MRI as part of a diagnostic workup for altered mental status. Hospital policy dictated that signout documentation include only patients' initials rather than more identifiable information such as full name or birth date. In this case, the patient requiring the brain MRI had the same initials as another patient on the same unit with severe cognitive impairment from a traumatic brain injury. The cross-covering resident mixed up the two patients and placed the MRI order in the wrong chart. Because the order for a "brain MRI to evaluate worsening cognitive function" could apply to either patient, neither the bedside nurse nor radiologist noticed the error.
Urmimala Sarkar, MD, MPH| October 1, 2013
Although the mother of a child, born male who identified as and expressed externally as a girl, had alerted the clinic of the child's preferred name when making the appointment, the medical staff called for the patient in the waiting room using her legal (masculine) name.
Manish K. Sethi, MD| February 1, 2010
Over the course of 2 years, a patient who frequently came to the emergency department complaining of abdominal pain underwent 12 CT scans of the abdomen and pelvis. All of them were completely normal.
Ernest J. Ring, MD; Jane E. Hirsch, RN, MS| October 1, 2009
Cardiology consultation on an elderly man admitted to the orthopedic service following a hip fracture reveals aortic stenosis. The cardiologist recommends against surgery, due to the risk of anesthesia. When the nurse reads these recommendations to the orthopedic resident, he calls her "stupid" and contacts the OR to schedule the surgery anyway. The Chief Medical Officer is called to intervene.
Dorrie K. Fontaine, RN, PhD| October 1, 2009
A toddler admitted for severe dehydration requires a femoral IV. The anesthesiologist ignores a nurse's reminder that hospital policy requires monitoring if a child is to receive sedation in the unit. When the nurse attempts to stop the procedure, the anesthesiologist throws the needle to the floor.
Ross Koppel, PhD| April 1, 2009
A patient hospitalized with Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia and advanced AIDS is given another patient's malignant biopsy results, leading his primary physician to mistakenly recommend hospice care.
Colin P. West, MD, PhD| January 1, 2008
An elderly man with COPD and end-stage congestive heart failure was admitted for increasing shortness of breath, due to a pleural effusion. A resident performed a thoracentesis on the wrong side, and the patient developed a pneumothorax and died. The resident disclosed the error but was devastated.
F. Daniel Duffy, MD; Christine K. Cassel, MD| October 1, 2007
Following surgery, a woman on a patient-controlled analgesia pump is found to be lethargic and incoherent, with a low respiratory rate. The nurse contacted the attending physician, who dismisses the patient's symptoms and chastises the nurse for the late call.
Conrad V. Fernandez, MD| June 1, 2007
A healthy woman who volunteered to participate in a radiology study was notified several weeks later of a "major abnormality" discovered on her MRI. She sought further evaluation and was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
Daniel Mason, MD| September 1, 2004
A medical student discovers that a hospital's radiology records are accessible via Internet, without any security, and struggles with whether and to whom to report the obvious HIPAA violation.
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."
Bryan A. Liang, MD, PhD, JD| May 1, 2004
Understanding that she may lose her life without it, a woman severely injured in a collision rejects a blood transfusion for religious reasons. However, her parents persuade the physicians otherwise, and the woman lives.
Colin F. Mackenzie, MD| March 1, 2004
Video monitors near the operating room reveal a patient's identity, and gossip spreads about a very private issue.
J. Forrest Calland, MD| January 1, 2004
During a hernia repair, surgeons decide to remove a patient's hydrocele, spermatic cord, and left testicle—without realizing that his right testicle had been removed previously.