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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: October 27, 2021
Marissa G. Vadi, MD, MPH, and Mathew R. Malkin, MD | October 27, 2021

A 6-week-old infant underwent a craniotomy and excision of abnormal brain tissue for treatment of hemimegalencephaly and epilepsy. A right femoral central venous catheter and an arterial catheter were inserted, as well as 22-gauge intravenous... 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 (554)

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141 - 160 of 552 WebM&M Case Studies
Hospitalized for pneumonia, a woman with a history of alcohol abuse and depression was found unconscious on the medical ward. A toxicology panel revealed her blood alcohol level was elevated at 530 mg/dL. A search of the ward revealed several empty containers of alcoholic foam sanitizer, which the patient confessed to ingesting.
Course Number: MMJ2111DU| June 1, 2017
To avoid worsening acute kidney injury in an older man with possible mesenteric ischemia, the provider ordered an abdominal CT without contrast, but the results were not diagnostic. Shortly later, the patient developed acute paralysis, and an urgent CT with contrast revealed blockage and a blood clot.
A woman with pneumothorax required urgent chest tube placement. After she showed improvement during her hospital stay, the pulmonary team requested the tube be disconnected and clamped with a follow-up radiograph 1 hour later. However, 3 hours after the tube was clamped, no radiograph had been done and the patient was found unresponsive, in cardiac arrest.
Presenting with pain in her epigastric region and back, an older woman with a history of opioid abuse had abnormal vital signs and an elevated troponin level. Imaging revealed multiple spinal fractures and cord compression. Neurosurgery recommended conservative management overnight. However, her troponin levels spiked, and an ECG revealed myocardial infarction.
Course Number: MMJ2111DT| May 1, 2017
Emergency department evaluation of a man with morbid obesity presenting with abdominal pain revealed tachycardia, hypertension, elevated creatinine, and no evidence of cholecystitis. Several hours later, the patient underwent CT scan; the physicians withheld contrast out of concern for his acute kidney injury. The initial scan provided no definitive answer. Ultimately, physicians ordered additional CT scans with contrast and diagnosed an acute aortic dissection.
May 1, 2017
In the emergency department, an older man with multiple medical conditions was found to have evidence of acute kidney injury and an elevated serum potassium level. However, the blood sample was hemolyzed, which can alter the reading. Although the patient was admitted and a repeat potassium level was ordered, the physician did not institute treatment for hyperkalemia. Almost immediately after the laboratory called with a panic result indicating a dangerously high potassium level, the patient went into cardiac arrest.
Admitted to the ICU with septic shock, a man with a transplanted kidney developed hypotension and required new central venous access. Since providers anticipated using the patient's left internal jugular vein catheter for re-starting hemodialysis (making it unsuitable to use for resuscitation), the ICU team placed the central line in the right femoral vein. However, they failed to recognize that his transplanted kidney was on the right side, which meant that femoral catheter placement on that side was contraindicated.
Course Number: MMJ2111DS| April 1, 2017
When a 94-year-old woman presented for routine primary care, the intern caring for her discovered that the patient's code status was "full code" and that there was no documentation of discussions regarding her wishes for end-of-life care. The intern and his supervisor engaged the patient in an advance care planning discussion, during which she clarified that she would not want resuscitation or life-prolonging measures.
Prior to undergoing a CT scan, a patient with no allergies documented in the electronic health record (EHR) described a history of hives after receiving contrast. During a follow-up clinic visit, the patient inquired whether this contrast reaction was listed in the EHR. Investigation revealed that it had been removed from the patient's profile, thus leaving the record with no evidence of allergy to contrast.
An older woman admitted to the medical-surgical ward with multiple right-sided rib fractures received a paravertebral block to control the pain. After the procedure, the anesthesiologist realized that the block had been placed on the wrong side. The patient required an additional paravertebral block on the correct side, which increased her risk of complications and exposed her to additional medication.
Course Number: MMJ2111DR| March 1, 2017
Brought to the emergency department from a nursing facility with confusion and generalized weakness, an older woman was found to have an elevated troponin level but no evidence of ischemia on her ECG. A consulting cardiologist recommended treating the patient with three anticoagulants. The next evening, she became acutely confused and a CT scan revealed a large intraparenchymal hemorrhage with a midline shift.
A woman taking modified-release lithium for bipolar disorder was admitted with cough, slurred speech, confusion, and disorientation. Diagnosed with delirium attributed to hypercalcemia, she was treated with aggressive hydration. She remained disoriented and eventually became comatose. After transfer to the ICU, she was diagnosed with nephrogenic diabetes insipidus due to lithium toxicity.
Although meningitis and neurosyphilis were ruled out for a woman presenting with a headache and blurry vision, blood tests returned indicating latent (inactive) syphilis. Due to a history of penicillin allergy, the patient was sent for testing for penicillin sensitivity, which was negative. The allergist placed orders for neurosyphilis treatment—a far higher penicillin dose than needed to treat latent syphilis, and a treatment regimen that would have required hospitalization. Upon review, the pharmacist saw that neurosyphilis had been ruled out, contacted the allergist, and the treatment plan was corrected.
Course Number: MMJ2111DQ| February 1, 2017
A few weeks after falling and hitting her head, a woman with metastatic cancer was admitted to the hospital for observation after a brain scan showed a subdural hematoma with a midline shift. Repeat imaging showed an enlarging hematoma, which required surgical evacuation. The admitting provider had mistakenly prescribed blood thinner for venous thromboembolism prophylaxis (contraindicated in the setting of subdural hematoma) by clicking the box in the electronic health record admission order set.
In an outpatient clinic, the nurse entered results of all daily point-of-care tests into the electronic health record at the end of her shift. She mistakenly entered one patient's urine pregnancy test result as positive instead of negative. When the patient's provider received electronic notification of the result, she recognized the error and corrected the medical record.
February 1, 2017
A man with end-stage renal disease was admitted with acute renal failure and mental status changes. The patient refused to take his lactulose owing to loose stools. Although nursing staff noted the refusal in the medical record, they did not inform his primary team. When the patient became more confused, a nurse alerted the team but did not describe the missed doses of lactulose. The patient continued to decline and was transferred to the ICU.
Course Number: MMJ2111DP| January 1, 2017
Following a hysterectomy, a woman was discharged but then readmitted for pelvic pain. The radiologist reported a large pelvic abscess on the repeat CT scan, and the gynecologist took the patient to the operating room for treatment based on the report alone, without viewing the images herself. In the OR, the gynecologist could not locate the abscess and stopped the surgery to look at the CT images. She realized that what the radiologist had read as an abscess was the patient's normal ovary.
January 1, 2017
An emergency department physician ordered a loading dose of IV phenytoin for a woman with a history of seizures and cardiac arrest. However, he failed to order that the loading dose be switched back to an appropriate (and lower) maintenance dose, and 3 days later the patient developed somnolence, severe ataxia, and dysarthria. Her serum phenytoin level was 3 times the maximum therapeutic level.
A man with a history of cardiac disease was brought to the emergency department for septic shock of possible intra-abdominal origin. A vasopressor was ordered. However, rather than delivering it through a central line, the norepinephrine was infused through a peripheral line. The medication extravasated into the subcutaneous tissue of the patient's arm. Despite attempts to salvage the patient's wrist and fingers, three of his fingertips had to be amputated.
Course Number: MMJ2111DO| December 1, 2016
A young woman with a history of suicide attempts called her primary care physician's office in the morning saying that she had been cutting herself and had taken extra doses of medication. The receptionist scheduled the patient for an appointment late that afternoon. After the clinic visit, while awaiting transfer to the emergency department for evaluation and admission, the patient was left unattended and eloped before providers could evaluate her.