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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 (72)

Published Date
PSNet Publication Date
1 - 20 of 72 WebM&M Case Studies
Sarina Fazio, PhD, RN, Emma Blackmon, PhD, RN, Amy Doroy, PhD, RN, Ai Nhat Vu and Paul MacDowell, PharmD. | May 26, 2021

A 64-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital for aortic valve replacement and aortic aneurysm repair. Following surgery, she became hypotensive and was given intravenous fluid boluses and vasopressor support with norepinephrine. On postoperative day 2, a fluid bolus was ordered; however, the fluid bag was attached to the IV line that had the vasopressor at a Y-site and the bolus was initiated. The error was recognized after 15 minutes of infusion, but the patient had ongoing hypotension following the inadvertent bolus. The commentary summarizes the common errors associated with administration of multiple intravenous infusions in intensive care settings and gives recommendations for reducing errors associated with co-administration of infusions.

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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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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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Benjamin Stripe, MD, FACC, FSCAI and Dahlia Zuidema, Pharm.D, BC-ADM, CDCES | September 30, 2020

A 44-year old man with hypertension and diabetes was admitted with an open wound on the ball of his right foot that could be probed to the bone and evidence of diabetic ketoacidosis. Over the course of the hospitalization, he had ongoing hypokalemia, low magnesium levels, an electrocardiogram showing a prolonged QT interval, ultimately leading to cardiac arrest due to torsades de pointes (an unusual form of ventricular tachycardia that can be fatal if left untreated). The commentary discusses the use of protocol-based management of chronic medical conditions, the inclusion of interprofessional care teams to coordinate management, and the importance of inter-team communication to identify issues and prevent poor outcomes. 

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Julia Munsch, PharmD and Amy Doroy, PhD, RN | June 24, 2020
A 55-year old woman became unarousable with low oxygen saturation as a result of multiple intravenous benzodiazepine doses given overnight. The benzodiazepine was ordered following a seizure in the intensive care unit (ICU) and was not revised or discontinued upon transfer to the floor; several doses were given for different indications - anxiety and insomnia. This case illustrates the importance of medication reconciliation upon transition of care, careful implementation of medication orders in their entirety, assessment of patient response and consideration of whether an administered medication is working effectively, accurate and complete documentation and communication, and the impact of limited resources during night shift.
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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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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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by Kristin E. Sandau, PhD, RN, and Marjorie Funk, PhD, RN| April 1, 2019
An elderly woman with a history of dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, and congestive heart failure (CHF) was brought to the emergency department and found to meet criteria for sepsis. Due to her CHF, she was admitted to a unit with telemetry monitoring, which at this institution was performed remotely. When the nurse came to check the patient's vital signs several hours later, she found the patient to be unresponsive and apneic, with no palpable pulse. A Code Blue was called, but the patient died. Although the telemetry technician had recognized progressive bradycardia and called the hospital floor several minutes before the code, he was placed on hold because the nurse was busy with another patient. While he was holding, he observed worsening bradycardia, eventually transitioning to asystole, and tried to redial the unit, but no one answered.
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.
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).
Craig A. Umscheid, MD, MSCE; John D. McGreevey, III, MD; and S. Ryan Greysen, MD, MHS, MA| December 1, 2017
Found unconscious at home, an older woman with advanced dementia and end-stage renal disease was resuscitated in the field and taken to the emergency department, where she was registered with a temporary medical record number. Once her actual medical record was identified, her DNR/DNI status was identified. After recognizing this and having discussions with the family, she was transitioned to comfort care and died a few hours later. Two months later, the clinic called the patient's home with an appointment reminder. The primary care physician had not been contacted about the patient's hospitalization and the electronic record system had not listed the patient as deceased.
Anne M. Turner, MD, MLIS, MPH| October 1, 2017
A Spanish-speaking woman presented to an urgent care clinic complaining of headache and worsening dizziness, for which the treating clinician ordered an MRI. When the results came in with no concerning findings later that day, the provider used Google Translate to write a letter informing the patient of the results. The patient interpreted the letter to mean that the results were concerning. This miscommunication led to patient distress and extra visits to both urgent care and the emergency department.
Tara Kirkpatrick, MD, and Chad LaGrange, MD| February 1, 2016
Despite mechanical problems with the robotic arms during a robotic-assisted prostatectomy, the surgeon continued using the technology and completed the operation. Following the procedure, the patient developed serious bleeding requiring multiple blood transfusions, several additional surgeries, and a prolonged hospital stay.
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.
Michele M. Pelter, RN, PhD, and Barbara J. Drew, RN, PhD| December 1, 2015
Following a non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, a man was admitted to the hospital and placed on a telemetry monitor. As the monitor was constantly sounding with "low voltage" and "asystole" alerts and the patient was well each time clinicians checked, they silenced the alarms. The patient was found dead 4 hours later.
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.
Charlie C. Kilpatrick, MD| September 1, 2015
After several days of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, a pregnant woman visited the emergency department and was swiftly discharged with antibiotics for a UTI. However, she returned the next day with unchanged abdominal pain and more nausea and vomiting. Apart from a focused ultrasound to document her pregnancy, no further testing was done. The patient again returned the following day with increased pain and now appeared more ill. An MRI revealed a ruptured appendix.
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.
Edward Etchells, MD, MSc| June 1, 2015
After multiple visits to both his primary care provider and urgent care for chronic burning left foot pain attributed to peripheral neuropathy, a man presented to the emergency department with worsening symptoms. His left lower leg was dusky and extremely tender, with non-palpable pulses. CT angiography revealed complete blockage of the left superficial femoral artery due to atherosclerotic peripheral arterial disease. The patient required emergent vascular bypass surgery on his left leg, and ultimately, an above-the-knee amputation.
David Shimabukuro, MD| May 1, 2015
An older woman with a history of pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and coronary artery disease was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. She received levofloxacin (administered approximately 3 hours after presentation). Twenty-four hours after admission, her blood cultures grew methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and vancomycin was added to her antibiotic regimen. The patient developed respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation as well as septic shock requiring vasopressors.