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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 (36)

1 - 20 of 36 WebM&M Case Studies
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.
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C. Craig Blackmore, MD, MPH| March 1, 2019
A woman with multiple myeloma required placement of a central venous catheter for apheresis. The outpatient oncologist intended to order a nontunneled catheter via computerized provider order entry but accidentally ordered a tunneled catheter. The interventional radiologist thought the order was unusual but didn't contact the oncologist. A tunneled catheter was placed without complications. When the patient presented for apheresis, providers recognized the wrong catheter had been placed, and the patient underwent an additional procedure.
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).
An ICU patient with head and spine trauma was sent for an MRI. Due his critical condition, hospital policy required a physician and nurse to accompany the patient to the MRI scanner. The ICU attending assigned a new intern, who felt unprepared to handle any crises that might arise, to transport the patient along with the nurse. While in a holding area awaiting the MRI, the patient's heart rate fell below 20 beats per minute, and the experienced ICU nurse administered atropine to recover his heart rate and blood pressure. The intern worried he had placed the patient's life at risk because of his inexperience, but he also felt uncomfortable speaking up.
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.
Robert L. Wears, MD, PhD| October 1, 2016
While attempting to order a CT scan with only oral contrast for a patient with poor kidney function, an intern ordering a CT for the first time selected "with contrast" from the list, not realizing that meant both oral and intravenous contrast. The patient developed contrast nephropathy.
Maria J. Silveira, MD, MA, MPH| June 1, 2016
An older man with multiple medical conditions was found hypoxic, hypotensive, and tachycardic. He was taken to the hospital. Providers there were unable to determine the patient's wishes for life-sustaining care, and, unaware that he had previously completed a DNR/DNI order, they placed him on a mechanical ventilator.
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.
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.
Seth J. Bokser, MD, MPH| March 1, 2013
A triage nurse incorrectly recorded a toddler's weight as 25 kg, instead of 25 lbs, which led to an error in calculating the dosage for antibiotics. She entered the inaccurate weight into the electronic medical record, and none of the other providers who saw the child caught the error.
Carlton R. Moore, MD, MS| August 1, 2012
Drawn on a Thursday, basic labs for a 10-year-old girl came back over the weekend showing a high glucose level, but neither the covering physician nor the primary pediatrician saw the results until the patient's mother called on Monday. Upon return to the clinic for follow-up, the child's glucose level was dangerously high and urinalysis showed early signs of diabetic ketoacidosis.
Jeffrey H. Barsuk, MD, MS| July 1, 2012
Following gallbladder removal, a patient presented with abdominal pain and fluid in her abdomen. The admitting team, comprised of a second-year resident and intern, decided to perform a paracentesis (fluid removal) without supervision. The patient had a complication necessitating emergency surgery and an ICU stay.
Elisa W. Ashton, PharmD| February 1, 2012
After entering an electronic prescription for the wrong patient, the clinic nurse deleted it, assuming that would cancel the order at the pharmacy. However, the prescription went through to the pharmacy, and the patient received it.
Abigail Zuger, MD| June 1, 2011
An adolescent girl passed out after a soccer game, and her father, a physician, took her to the pediatrician for tests. The physician father obtained a copy of his daughter’s ECG, panicked because it was not normal, and began guiding his daughter’s medical care.
James E. Sabin, MD| December 1, 2009
A man with a history of IV drug use is admitted to the hospital and found to have an epidural abscess with surrounding osteomyelitis. Although the treatment plan required weeks of IV antibiotics, the patient (who fought with the nursing staff and threatened to leave against medical advice [AMA]) was discharged after 2 weeks on oral antibiotics. His condition worsened, and he returned 3 weeks later, but he ultimately left AMA and was lost to follow-up.
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.
Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH| October 1, 2008
An elderly, non–English-speaking man with diabetes was admitted to the hospital twice in 8 days due to hypoglycemia. At discharge, the patient was instructed not to take any antidiabetic medications. In between hospitalizations, he saw his primary care physician, who restarted an antidiabetic medication.
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.