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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 (18)

1 - 18 of 18 WebM&M Case Studies
Christian Bohringer, MD| July 8, 2022

This WebM&M highlights two instances where incomplete documentation of patient history led to complications related to anesthesia administration. The commentary discusses the importance of a thorough preoperative history and preoperative evaluation.

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.

Robin Aldwinckle, MD and Edmund Florendo, MD| October 27, 2021

A 78-year-old woman with macular degeneration presented for a pars plana vitrectomy (PPV) under monitored anesthesia care (MAC) with an eye block. At this particular hospital, eye cases under MAC are typically performed with an eye block by the surgeon after the anesthesiologist has administered some short-acting sedation, commonly with remifentanil. On this day, there was a shortage of premixed remifentanil and the resident – who was unfamiliar with the process of drug dilution – incorrectly diluted the remifentanil solution. Shortly after receiving sedation, the patient became unresponsive, and a code was called. The commentary addresses the challenges of drug dilution and strategies to reduce dilutional errors and prioritize patient safety.

A 61-year-old male was admitted for a right total knee replacement under regional anesthesia. The surgeon – unaware that the anesthesiologist had already performed a right femoral nerve block with 20 ml (100mg) of 0.5% racemic bupivacaine for postoperative analgesia – also infiltrated the arthroplasty wound with 200 mg of ropivacaine. The patient was sedated with an infusion of propofol throughout the procedure. At the end of the procedure, after stopping the propofol infusion, the patient remained unresponsive, and the anesthesiologist diagnosed the patient with Local Anesthetic Systemic Toxicity (LAST). The commentary addresses the symptoms of LAST, the importance of adhering to local anesthetic dosing guidelines, and the essential role of effective communication between operating room team members.

A 34-year-old morbidly obese man was placed under general anesthesia to treat a pilonidal abscess. Upon initial evaluation by an anesthesiologist, he was found to have a short thick neck, suggesting that endotracheal intubation might be difficult. A fellow anesthetist suggested use of video-laryngoscopy equipment, but the attending anesthesiologist rejected the suggestion. A first-year resident attempted to intubate the patient but failed. The attending anesthesiologist took over, but before intubation could be performed, the patient desaturated to 40-50%. A second attempt by the attending anesthesiologist at intubation with a glide scope also failed. The patient’s arterial saturation increased after administration of 100% oxygen by mask and he suffered no apparent neurological consequences. The commentary discusses best practices for managing high risk patients and appropriate use of advanced airway management devices.

Claire Manske, MD | August 26, 2020

A 56-year-old female received a digital tourniquet around the base of her left big toe during an ablation and excision of a deformed in-grown toenail. After the procedure, a dressing was applied and the patient was discharged 4 hours later. During the follow-up visit two-days later, the dressing was removed and revealed that the tourniquet was still in place and constricting the toe. The toe became necrotic and developed gangrene, and was amputated. The commentary discusses the safe use of digital tourniquets, the importance of including tourniquets in the surgical count process, and ensuring tourniquets are removed in a timely manner.

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.
A 74-year-old male with a history of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure with an EF of 45%, stage I chronic kidney disease and gout presented for a total hip replacement. He had multiple home medications and was also on Warfarin, which was held appropriately prior to the surgery.  A Type and Cross for blood request was sent along with baseline labs; however, there was a mislabeling error on one of the samples causing a delay in the blood getting to the operating room resulting in the medical team initiating a massive transfusion protocol when the patient became hypotensive.
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Jeanna Blitz, MD| November 1, 2018
When patients in two cases did not receive complete preanesthetic evaluation, problems with intubation ensued. In the first case, an anesthesiologist went to evaluate a morbidly obese patient scheduled for hysteroscopy. As the patient was donning her hospital gown behind a closed curtain, he waited but left without performing the preoperative assessment because the morning surgery list was overbooked and he had many other patients to see. Once in the operating room, he discovered on chart review that the woman had a history of gastroesophageal reflux. She could not be intubated, and a supraglottic airway was placed. In the second case, an elderly man with a tumor mass at the base of his tongue was scheduled for a biopsy. On examination, the anesthesiologist could not see much of the mass with the patient's mouth maximally open and tongue sticking out, and he couldn't locate the patient's head and neck CT to further evaluate the mass. The surgeon arrived late and did not communicate with the anesthesiologist about the patient. After inducing general anesthesia, laryngoscopy and intubation proved extremely difficult as the mass obscured the view of the larynx. A second anesthesiologist was called, and together they were able to intubate the patient with a fiberoptic bronchoscope.
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.
Matt M. Kurrek, MD, and Rebecca S. Twersky, MD, MPH| August 1, 2012
Following spinal anesthesia for an outpatient procedure, a patient is discharged and instructed to take sitz baths with tepid water. The patient misunderstood the instructions, using scalding water instead, and residual anesthesia blunted his response to the hot water.
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.
Kevin C. Huoh, MD; Kristina W. Rosbe, MD| June 1, 2011
A healthy child underwent tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Extubated after an uneventful surgery, within an hour the child became hypoxic and unable to breathe spontaneously, requiring reintubation.
Jose L. Baez-Escudero, MD; Glenn N. Levine, MD| September 1, 2007
A man underwent coronary angiography; one stent was placed and bypass surgery was scheduled for 4 days later. He developed bleeding at the catheter site and returned to the hospital. A CT scan revealed a large retroperitoneal hematoma, which was repaired surgically. While in the hospital awaiting the delayed bypass surgery, the patient had a cardiac arrest and died.
James A. Yates, MD| March 1, 2006
A man undergoes plastic surgery at an outpatient center and winds up with a complication requiring prolonged stay in the ICU.
Marilynn M. Rosenthal, PhD| July 1, 2003
An anxious patient awaiting ambulatory surgery is mistakenly put on the wrong operating table.