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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: December 14, 2022
Narath Carlile, MD, MPH, Clyde Lanford Smith, MD, MPH, DTM&H, James H. Maguire, MD, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD | December 14, 2022

This case describes a man in his 70s with a history of multiple myeloma and multiple healthcare encounters for diarrhea in the previous five years, which had always been attributed to viral or unknown causes, without any microbiologic or serologic... Read More

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Naileshni S. Singh, MD | December 14, 2022

A 63-year-old woman was admitted to a hospital for anterior cervical discectomy (levels C4-C7) and plating for cervical spinal stenosis under general anesthesia. The operation was uneventful and intraoperative neuromonitoring was used to help prevent... Read More

Mark Fedyk, PhD, Nathan Fairman, MD, MPH, Patrick S. Romano, MD, MPH, John MacMillan, MD, and Monica Miller, RN, MS, CCRN | December 14, 2022

A 65-year-old man with metastatic liver disease presented to the hospital with worsening abdominal pain after a partial hepatectomy and development of a large ventral hernia. Imaging studies revealed perforated diverticulitis. A goals-of-care... 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 (221)

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Displaying 1 - 20 of 221 WebM&M Case Studies
John Landefeld, MD, MS, Sara Teasdale, MD, and Sharad Jain, MD| February 23, 2022

A 65-year-old woman with a history of 50 pack-years of cigarette smoking presented to her primary care physician (PCP), concerned about lower left back pain; she was advised to apply ice and take ibuprofen. She returned to her PCP a few months later reporting persistent pain. A lumbar spine radiograph showed mild degenerative disc disease and the patient was prescribed hydrocodone/acetaminophen in addition to ibuprofen. In the following months, she was seen by video twice for progressive, more severe pain that limited her ability to walk. A year after the initial evaluation, the patient presented to the Emergency Department (ED) with severe pain. X-rays showed a 5 cm lesion in her lung, a small vertebral lesion and multiple lesions in her pelvic bones. A biopsy led to a diagnosis of lung cancer and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed metastases to the liver and bone, as well as multiple small fractures of the pelvic girdle. Given the extent of metastatic disease, the patient decided against aggressive treatment with curative intent and enrolled in hospice; she died of metastatic lung cancer 6 weeks after her enrollment in hospice. The commentary summarizes the ‘red flag’ symptoms associated with low back pain that should prompt expedited evaluation, the importance of lung cancer screening for patients with a history of heavy smoking, and how pain-related stigma can contribute to contentious interactions between providers and patients that can limit effective treatment.

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Nandakishor Kapa, M.D., and José A. Morfín, M.D.| February 23, 2022

A 69-year-old man with End-Stage Kidney Disease (ESKD) secondary to diabetes mellitus and hypertension, who had been on dialysis since 2014, underwent deceased donor kidney transplant. The case demonstrates the complex nature of management of allograft dysfunction due to vascular complications in a patient with deceased donor kidney transplant in the early post-transplant period. The commentary discusses how standardized follow-up imaging protocols can support early recognition and evaluation of allograft dysfunction due to vascular complications in kidney transplant recipients, as well the importance of team communication for patients requiring multiple interventions to reduce lag time in addressing further complications.

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.

Florence Tan, PharmD, Karnjit Johl, MD and Mariya Kotova, PharmD| September 29, 2021

This case describes multiple emergency department (ED) encounters and hospitalizations experienced by a middle-aged woman with sickle cell crisis and a past history of multiple, long admissions related to her sickle cell disease. The multiple encounters highlight the challenges of opioid prescribing for patients with chronic, non-cancer pain. The commentary discusses the limitations of prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) data for patients with chronic pain, challenges in opioid dose conversions, and increasing patient safety through safe medication prescribing and thorough medication reconciliation.

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A seven-year-old girl with esophageal stenosis underwent upper endoscopy with esophageal dilation under general anesthesia. During the procedure, she was fully monitored with a continuous arterial oxygen saturation probe, heart rate monitors, two-lead electrocardiography, continuous capnography, and non-invasive arterial blood pressure measurements. The attending gastroenterologist and endoscopist were serially dilating the esophagus with larger and larger rigid dilators when the patient suddenly developed hypotension. She was immediately given a fluid bolus, phenylephrine, and 100% oxygen but still developed cardiac arrest. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was initiated with cardiac massage, but she could not be resuscitated and died. This commentary highlights the role of communication between providers, necessary technical steps to mitigate the risks of upper endoscopy in children, and the importance of education and training for care team members.

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 52-year-old man complaining of intermittent left shoulder pain for several years was diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury and underwent left shoulder surgery. The patient received a routine follow-up X-ray four months later. The radiologist interpreted the film as normal but noted a soft tissue density in the chest and advised a follow-up chest X-ray for further evaluation. Although the radiologist’s report was sent to the orthopedic surgeon’s office, the surgeon independently read and interpreted the same images and did not note the soft tissue density or order any follow-up studies. Several months later, the patient’s primary care provider ordered further evaluation and lung cancer was diagnosed. The commentary discusses how miscommunication contributes to delays in diagnosis and treatment and strategies to facilitate effective communication between radiologists and referring clinicians.  

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David T. Martin, MD and Diane O’Leary, PhD| June 30, 2021

Beginning in her teenage years, a woman began "feeling woozy" after high school gym class. The symptoms were abrupt in onset, lasted between 5 to 15 minutes and then subsided after sitting down. Similar episodes occurred occasionally over the following decade, usually related to stress. When she was in her 30s, she experienced a more severe episode of palpitations and went to the emergency department (ED). An electrocardiogram (ECG) was normal and she was discharged with a diagnosis of stress or possible panic attack. She continued to experience these symptoms for two more years and her primary care physician (PCP) suggested that she see a psychiatrist for presumed panic attacks. At the patient’s request, the PCP ordered a 24-hour Holter monitor, which was normal. When she was 40 years old, the patient experienced another severe episode and went to the ED. During an exercise treadmill test, she experienced another “woozy” spell and the ECG showed an elevated heart rate with narrow QRS complexes. She was diagnosed with paraoxymal supraventricular tacycardia (PSVT). The commentary discusses the diagnostic challenges of PSVT and approaches to reduce diagnostic uncertainty, especially given gender bias in attributing palpitations to psychiatric rather than cardiac causes.

Jeremiah Duby, PharmD, Kendra Schomer, PharmD, Victoria Oyewole, PharmD, Delia Christian, RN, BSN, CNRN, and Sierra Young, PharmD| May 26, 2021

A 65-year-old man with a history of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and coronary artery disease was transferred from a Level III trauma center to a Level I trauma center with lower extremity paralysis after a ground level fall complicated by a 9-cm abdominal aortic aneurysm and cervical spinal cord injury. Post transfer, the patient was noted to have rapidly progressive ascending paralysis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed severe spinal stenosis involving C3-4 and post-traumatic cord edema/contusion involving C6-7. A continuous intravenous (IV) infusion of norepinephrine was initiated to maintain adequate spinal cord perfusion, with a target mean arterial pressure goal of greater than 85 mmHg. Unfortunately, norepinephrine was incorrectly programmed into the infusion pump for a weight-based dose of 0.5 mcg/kg/min rather than the ordered dose of 0.5 mcg/min, resulting in a dose that was 70 times greater than intended. The patient experienced bradycardia and cardiac arrest and subsequently died.

Kelly Haas, MD, and Andrew Lee, PharmD| May 26, 2021

A 4-year-old (former 33-week premature) boy with a complex medical history including gastroschisis and subsequent volvulus in infancy resulting in short bowel syndrome, central venous catheter placement, and home parenteral nutrition (PN) dependence was admitted with hyponatremia. A pharmacist from the home infusion pharmacy notified the physician that an error in home PN mixing had been identified; a new file had been created for this chronic PN patient by the home infusion pharmacy and the PN formula in this file was transcribed erroneously without sodium acetate. This error resulted in only 20% of the patient’s prescribed sodium being mixed into the home PN solution for several weeks, resulting in hyponatremia and unnecessary hospital admission. The commentary highlights the importance of collaboration between clinicians and patients’ families for successful home PN and the roles of communication process maps, standardizing PN compounding, and order verification in reducing the risk of medication error.

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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Deborah Plante, MD, and Andrea Gonzalez Falero, MD| April 28, 2021

A 24-year-old woman with type 1 diabetes presented to the emergency department with worsening abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Her last dose of insulin was one day prior to presentation. She stopped taking insulin because she was not tolerating any oral intake. The admitting team managed her diabetes with subcutaneous insulin but thought the patient did not meet criteria for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), but after three inpatient days with persistent hyperglycemia, blurred vision, and altered mental status, a consulting endocrinologist diagnosed DKA. The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) and an insulin drip was started, after which the patient’s metabolic derangements normalized and her symptoms resolved. The commentary discusses the importance of educating patients and providers on risk factors for DKA and symptoms in type 1 diabetics, the use of a stepwise approach to diagnosing acid-based disorders, clinical decision support tools to guide physiologic insulin replacement, and the role of closed-loop communication to decrease medical error.

David Barnes, MD and William Ken McCallum, MD| February 10, 2021

A 56-year-old women with a history of persistent asthma presented to the emergency department (ED) with shortness of breath and chest tightness that was relieved with Albuterol. She was admitted to the hospital for acute asthma exacerbation. Given a recent history of mobility limitations and continued clinical decompensation, a computed tomography (CT) angiogram of the chest was obtained to rule out pulmonary embolism (PE).  The radiologist summarized his initial impression by telephone to the primary team but the critical finding (“profound evidence of right heart strain") was not conveyed to the primary team. The written radiology impression was not reviewed, nor did the care team independently review the CT images. The team considered her to be low-risk and initiated therapy with a direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC). Later that day, the patient became hemodynamically unstable and was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU). She developed signs of stroke and required ongoing resuscitation overnight before being transitioned to comfort care and died. This commentary discusses the importance of avoiding anchoring bias, effective communication between care team members, and reviewing all available test results to avoid diagnostic errors.

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A man with a history of previous airway operations was admitted for a rigid direct laryngoscopy. The consulting physician anesthesiologist prescribed a resident to administer ketamine to the patient as part of the general anesthesia protocol. The resident unintentionally located two vials of 100mg/mL ketamine (instead of the intended 10mg/mL vials that are used routinely) and erroneously administered 950mg of ketamine (instead of the intended 95mg). The dosing error resulted in delayed emergence from anesthesia and an unnecessary transfer to the intensive care unit for ventilation and monitoring, but was discharged home the following day. The commentary discusses the challenges of medication administration, the role of double-checking, and the importance of trainee supervision.

Saul N. Weingart, MD, MPP, PhD, Gordon D. Schiff MD, and Ted James, MD, FACS | December 23, 2020

After a breast mass was identified by a physician assistant during a routine visit, a 60-year-old woman received a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. The radiology assessment was challenging due to dense breast tissue and ultimately interpreted as “probably benign” findings. When the patient returned for follow-up 5 months later, the mass had increased in size and she was referred for a biopsy. Confusion regarding biopsy scheduling led to delays and, 7 months after initial presentation, the patient was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer involving the axillary nodes and spine. The commentary discusses the diagnostic challenges of potentially discordant findings between imaging and physical exams and the importance of structured inter-professional handoffs and closed-loop referrals in reducing diagnostic delays and associated harm. 

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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Richard P. Dutton, MD MBA| August 26, 2020

A 40-year-old man with multiple comorbidities, including severe aortic stenosis, was admitted for a pathologic pelvic fracture (secondary to osteoporosis) after a fall. During the hospitalization, efforts at mobilization led to a second fracture of the left femoral neck The case describes deviations in the plan for management of anesthesia and postoperative care which ultimately contributed to the patient’s death. The commentary discusses the importance of multidisciplinary planning for frail patients, the contributors to, and consequences of, deviating from these plans, and the use of triggers, early warning systems, and rapid response teams to identify and respond to early signs of decompensation.

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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.

Amparo C. Villablanca, MD, and Gordon X. Wong, MD, MBA | July 29, 2020

A 52-year-old woman with a known history of coronary artery disease and ischemic cardiomyopathy was admitted for presumed community-acquired pneumonia. The inpatient medicine team obtained a “curbside” cardiology consultation which concluded that the worsening left ventricular systolic functioning was in the setting of acute pulmonary edema. Two months post-discharge, a nuclear stress test was suggestive of infarction and a subsequent catheterization showed a 100% occlusion. The commentary discusses cardiovascular-related diagnostic errors affecting women and the advantages, pitfalls and best practices for curbside consultations in acute care settings.

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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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