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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: November 30, 2021
Hannah Spero, MSN, APRN, Angela E. Usher, PhD, LCSW, Brian Howard MS1, and Frederick J. Meyers, MD | November 30, 2021

A 77-year-old man was diagnosed with a rectal mass. After discussing goals of care with an oncologist, he declined surgical intervention and underwent targeted radiotherapy before being lost to follow up. The patient subsequently presented to Emergency Department after a fall at home and was found to have new metastatic lesions in both lungs and numerous enhancing lesions in the brain. Further discussions of the goals of care revealed that the patient desired to focus on comfort and on maintaining independence for as long as possible. The inpatient hospice team discussed the potential role of brain radiotherapy for palliation to meet the goal of maintaining independence. The patient successfully completed a course of central nervous system (CNS) radiation, which resulted in improved strength, energy, speech, and quality of life. This case represents a perceived delay in palliative radiation, an “error” in care.

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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 (556)

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61 - 80 of 554 WebM&M Case Studies
Glen Xiong, MD and Debra Kahn, MD| November 27, 2019
Two different patients were seen in the emergency department a history of excessive alcohol consumption and suicidal ideation along with other medical comorbidities. In both cases, acute medical conditions prevented a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation being completed by psychiatric emergency services. Unfortunately, both patients were discharged after resolution of their medical conditions and were later found dead.
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Sierra Rayne Young, Pharm.D. and Iris Chen, Pharm.D., BCPS| November 27, 2019
Three patients were at the same hospital over the course of a few months for vascular access device (VAD) placement and experienced adverse outcomes. The adverse outcomes of two of them were secondary to drugs given for sedation, while the third patient’s situation was somewhat different. Vascular access procedures are extremely common and are relatively short but may require the use of procedural sedation, which is usually very well tolerated but can involve significant risk, as these cases illustrate.
Caitlin E. Kulig, PharmD and Imo A. Ebong, MBBS, MS| November 27, 2019
A young woman is admitted with abdominal pain, nausea, and weakness and found to have a urinary tract infection and was started on intravenous levofloxacin. She also received her home medications, which included lithium and an atypical antipsychotic (quetiapine) along with lithium for bipolar disease and multiple doses of intravenous ondansetron and metoclopramide as treatment for nausea. Subsequently, she was observed to be bradycardic with a widening QRS complex on telemetry and became pulseless and unresponsive. Luckily, advanced cardiac life support was implemented with a return of heartbeat and circulation. The use of common medications that caused QT prolongation contributed to this adverse event.
Adam Wright, PhD, and Gordon Schiff, MD| October 30, 2019
Following resection of colorectal cancer, a hospitalized elderly man experienced a pulmonary embolism, which was treated with rivaroxaban. Upon discharge home, he received two separate prescriptions for rivaroxaban (per protocol): one for 15 mg twice daily for 10 days, and then 20 mg daily after that. Ten days later, the patient's wife returned to the pharmacy requesting a refill. On re-reviewing the medications with her, the pharmacist discovered the patient had been taking both prescriptions (a total daily dose of 50 mg daily). This overdose placed him at very high risk for bleeding complications.
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An intern night float, called in on jeopardy from an outside institution for an intern who was ill, was paged to the bedside of an unstable patient to assess his condition. In the electronic health record, the intern checked the code status and clinical information, but the signout did not specify the patient’s goals of care nor what course of action to take should the patient worsen. Although the patient was listed as full code and the intern attempted to reach both the rapid response team and the senior resident, she was not aware the pager numbers were incorrect. Eventually, the intern flagged a senior resident passing in the hallway, who assessed the patient and suggested they contact his family.
Christopher F. Janowak, MD, FACS, and Lauren M. Janowak, RN, BSN, CCRN| October 30, 2019
Two patients arrived at the Emergency Department (ED) at the same time with major trauma. Both patients were unidentified and were given "Doe" names. Patient 1 was quickly sent to the operating room (OR) but the ED nurse incorrectly gave him Patient 2's "Doe" name. The OR nurse only realized there was a problem when blood arrived with Patient 1's correct "Doe" name, requiring multiple phone calls with the ED, laboratory, and surgeon to correctly identify the patient.
Zara Cooper, MD, MSc| September 25, 2019
A man with a history of T6 paraplegia came to the emergency department with delirium, hypotension, and fever. Laboratory results revealed a high white blood cell count and mild elevation of bilirubin and liver enzymes. A stat abdominal CT showed a mildly thickened gallbladder. The patient was admitted to the intensive care unit with a provisional diagnosis of septic shock and treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics and intravenous fluids. He was transferred to the medical ward on hospital day 2, where the receiving hospitalist realized the diagnosis was still unclear. A second CT scan showed a 6 cm abscess near the liver, likely arising from a perforated gallbladder. The patient underwent an urgent open cholecystectomy and drainage of the abscess.
Andrew P. Olson, MD| September 25, 2019
A woman with acute myeloid leukemia presented to the emergency department (ED) with shortness of breath after receiving chemotherapy. As laboratory test results showed acute kidney injury and suggested tumor lysis syndrome, the patient was started on emergent hemodialysis. She experienced worsening dyspnea and was emergently intubated and transferred to the intensive care unit. There, her blood pressure began to drop, and she died despite aggressive measures. During the code, the laboratory called with positive blood culture results; although blood cultures and broad-spectrum antibiotics had been ordered while the patient was in the ED, the antibiotics were not administered until several hours later. Due to the urgent focus on the patient's oncologic emergency, the diagnosis of sepsis was missed.
Mythili P. Pathipati, MD, and James M. Richter, MD| August 10, 2019
An elderly man had iron deficiency anemia with progressively falling hemoglobin levels for nearly 2 years. Although during that time he underwent an upper endoscopy, capsule endoscopy, and repeat upper endoscopy and received multiple infusions of iron and blood, his primary physician maintained that he didn't need a repeat colonoscopy despite his anemia because his previous colonoscopy was negative. The patient ultimately presented to the emergency department with a bowel obstruction, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and underwent surgery to resect the mass.
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Michael J. Barry, MD, and Marc B. Garnick, MD| August 10, 2019
Referred to urology for a 5-year history of progressive urinary frequency, nocturnal urination, and difficulty initiating a stream, a man had been reluctant to seek care for his symptoms because his father had a "miserable" experience with treatment for the same condition. A physician assistant saw him at that first visit and ordered a PSA test (despite the patient's expressed views against PSA testing) and cystoscopy (without explaining why it was needed), and urged the patient to self-catheterize (without any instructions on how to do so). The patient elected not to follow up with the tests because of this negative interaction. Ten weeks later, he sought care from a nurse practitioner at his primary care provider's office where his blood pressure and creatinine levels were found to be markedly elevated, 2L of urine were drained via catheter, and he was admitted to the hospital for renal failure.
Yi Lu, MD, PhD, and Douglas Salvador, MD, MPH| August 8, 2019
A woman with a history of prior spine surgery presented to the emergency department with progressive low back pain. An MRI scan of T11–S1 showed lumbar degenerative joint disease and a small L5–S1 disc herniation. She was referred for physical therapy and prescribed muscle relaxant, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and pain relievers. Ten days later, she presented to a community hospital with fever, inability to walk, and numbness from the waist down. Her white blood cell count was greater than 30,000 and she was found to be in acute renal and liver failure. She was transferred to a neurosurgery service at an academic hospital when an MRI revealed a T6–T10 thoracic epidural abscess.
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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Candy Tsourounis, PharmD, and Katayoon Kathy Ghomeshi, PharmD| July 2, 2019
An elderly man admitted for agitation and suicidal ideation was prescribed clozapine by psychiatry. The clozapine Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program requires both prescribers and patients to be registered in an online database. A REMS-registered attending psychiatrist entered the initial order (12.5 mg). During the hospitalization, the medicine intern, who was not registered with the REMS program, titrated the dose to 25 mg daily and also wrote the discharge prescription. The outpatient pharmacist noted the intern was not registered and contacted the attending psychiatrist, who wrote a new prescription. The patient's family was unable to pick up the prescription for 3 days. During this gap in therapy, the patient experienced recurrence of paranoia and required readmission to the hospital.
Melissa S. Wong, MD; Angelica Vivero, MD; Ellen B. Klapper, MD; and Kimberly D. Gregory, MD, MPH| July 2, 2019
First admitted to the hospital at 25 weeks of pregnancy for vaginal bleeding, a woman (G5 P2 A2) received 4 units of packed red blood cells and 2 doses of iron injections. She was discharged after 3 days with an improved hemoglobin level. At 35 weeks, she was admitted for an elective cesarean delivery. Intraoperatively, an upper uterine segment incision was made and the newborn was delivered in good condition. Immediately after, a subtotal hysterectomy was performed. The anesthesiologist noted that the patient was hypotensive; blood was transfused. A rash developed surrounding the transfusion site and widespread ecchymosis appeared as she became more unstable. Although physicians attempted to stabilize her with fluids and medications and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was performed for 60 minutes, the patient died.
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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Kimberly G. Blumenthal, MD, MSc| June 1, 2019
Transferred to the emergency department from the transfusion center after becoming unresponsive and hypotensive, an elderly man with signs of sepsis is given incomplete and delayed antimicrobial coverage due to a history of penicillin allergy. Neither gram-negative nor anaerobic coverage were provided until several hours later, and the patient developed septic shock.
Audrey Lyndon, PhD, RN, and Stephanie Lim, MD| June 1, 2019
During surgery for a forearm fracture, a woman experienced a drop in heart rate to below 50 beats per minute. As the consultant anesthesiologist had stepped out to care for another patient, the resident asked the technician to draw up atropine for the patient. When the technician returned with an unlabeled syringe without the medication vial, the resident was reluctant to administer the medication, but did so without a double check after the technician insisted it was atropine. Over the next few minutes, the patient's blood pressure spiked to 250/135 mm Hg.
Emily L. Aaronson, MD, MPH, and Christopher Kabrhel, MD, MPH| May 1, 2019
Following catheter-guided thrombolysis for a large saddle pulmonary embolism, a man was monitored in the intensive care unit. The catheters were removed the next day, and the patient was sent from the interventional radiology suite to the postanesthesia care unit, after which he was transferred to a telemetry bed on the stepdown unit. No explicit plan for anticoagulation was discussed with the accepting medical team. Shortly after the nurse found the patient lethargic, tachycardic, and hypoxic, the patient lost his pulse and a code was called.
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Emanuel Kanal, MD| May 1, 2019
After presenting with new left-sided weakness and hypertensive urgency, a woman was admitted to the stroke unit, and the consulting neurologist ordered an urgent MRI of the brain. Although the patient required pushes of intravenous hypertensive medication to control her blood pressure (BP), she was taken to radiology where the nurse checked her BP one more time before leaving her in the MRI machine with the BP cuff still on. Within a few seconds of starting the scan, the patient's arm with the BP cuff was sucked into the MRI scanner, making a loud noise.
John Day and John T. Paige, MD| May 1, 2019
An elderly man with a complicated medical history slipped on a rug at home, fell, and injured his hip. Emergency department evaluation and imaging revealed no head injury and a left intertrochanteric hip fracture. Although he was admitted to the orthopedic surgery service with surgery to fix the fracture initially scheduled for the next day, the operation was delayed by 3 days due to several emergent trauma cases and lack of surgeon availability. He ultimately underwent surgery and was discharged a few days later but was readmitted several weeks later with chest pain and shortness of breath. He was found to have a pulmonary embolism; anticoagulation was initiated. The patient's rehabilitation was delayed, his recovery was prolonged, and he never returned to his baseline functional status.