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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 (39)

1 - 20 of 39 WebM&M Case Studies
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.

A 58-year-old female receiving treatment for transformed lymphoma was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with E. coli bacteremia and colitis secondary to neutropenia, and ongoing hiccups lasting more than 48 hours. She was prescribed thioridazine 10 mg twice daily for the hiccups and received four doses without resolution; the dose was then increased to 15 mg and again to 25 mg without resolution. When she was transferred back to the inpatient floor, the pharmacist, in reviewing her records and speaking with the resident physician, thioridazine (brand name Mellaril) had been prescribed when chlorpromazine (brand name Thorazine) had been intended. The commentary discusses the use of computerized physician order entry (CPOE) to reduce prescribing errors in inpatient settings and the importance of having a pharmacist on the patient care team to avoid prescribing errors involving less commonly prescribed medications. 

Catherine Chia, MD and Mithu Molla, MD, MBA | May 27, 2020
A 55-year old man was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia requiring intravenous antibiotics. After three intravenous lines infiltrated, the attending physician on call gave a verbal order to have a percutaneous intravenous central venous catheter placed by interventional radiology the next morning. However, the nurse on duty incorrectly entered an order for a tunneled dialysis catheter, and the radiologist then inserted the wrong type of catheter. The commentary explores safety issues with verbal orders and interventional radiology procedures.
Nasim Wiegley, M.D. and José A. Morfín, M.D. | January 29, 2020
A 54-year-old man was found unconscious at home with multiple empty bottles of alcoholic beverages nearby and was brought to the emergency department by his family members. He was confused and severely hyponatremic, so he was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). His hospital stay was complicated by an error in the administration of hypertonic saline.
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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Jennifer Faig, MD, and Jessica A. Zerillo, MD, MPH| June 1, 2018
Admitted to the oncology service for chemotherapy treatment, a woman with leukemia was noted to be neutropenic on hospital day 6. She had some abdominal discomfort and had not had a bowel movement for 2 days. The overnight physician ordered a suppository without realizing that the patient was neutropenic and immunosuppressed. Unaware that suppositories are contraindicated in neutropenic patients, the nurse administered the suppository. The patient developed a fever soon after receiving the suppository and required transfer to the intensive care unit for hypotension and management of septic shock.
Mary G. Amato, PharmD, MPH, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD| January 1, 2018
Admitted for intravenous diuretic therapy and control of his atrial fibrillation, an older man was mistakenly given metoprolol tartrate instead of his home dose of extended-release metoprolol succinate. That night, he developed atrioventricular block, experienced a pulseless electrical activity cardiac arrest, and died. Review of the case identified problems in the human factors design in the computerized order entry system that contributed to the prescribing error.
John D. McGreevey III, MD| November 1, 2016
A transition from paper orders to CPOE left out an important safety reminder, resulting in mismanagement of an elderly patient's low potassium and magnesium levels. This led to a fatal arrhythmia. The paper-based electrolyte order set had provided a reminder that magnesium replacement should accompany potassium replacement; however, in the computerized system, a separate order set was necessary for each electrolyte.
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.
Jerod Nagel, PharmD, and Eric Nguyen| October 1, 2015
A woman who had recently had her left lung removed for aspergilloma presented to the outpatient clinic with pain, redness, and pus draining from her sternotomy site. She was admitted for surgical debridement and prescribed IV liposomal amphotericin B for aspergillus. Hours into the IV infusion, the patient developed nausea, vomiting, sweating, and shivering, and it was discovered that she had been given conventional amphotericin B at the dose intended for the liposomal formulation, representing a 5-fold overdose.
Melissa Baysari, PhD| October 1, 2013
An epilepsy patient's discharge plan included phenytoin to be taken once daily. The prescribing physician was somewhat unfamiliar with the electronic medical record (EMR), didn't notice that the default frequency for phenytoin was "TID," and overrode the resultant computerized alert about the high dosage.
Joseph I. Boullata, PharmD, RPh, BCNSP| April 1, 2013
A 3-year-old boy hospitalized with anemia who was on chronic total parenteral nutrition was given an admixture with a level of sodium 10-fold higher than intended. Despite numerous warnings and checks along the way, the error still reached the patient.
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.
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.
John Halamka, MD, MS| December 1, 2011
While entering an order via smartphone to discontinue anticoagulation on a patient, a resident received a text message from a friend and never completed the order. The patient continued to receive warfarin and had spontaneous bleeding into the pericardium that required emergency open heart surgery.
Erika Abramson, MD, MS, and Rainu Kaushal, MD, MPH| September 1, 2011
Antibiotics administration for an elderly man hospitalized for acute infection is delayed by more than 24 hours due to a mix-up and override in the computerized provider order entry system. However, none of the clinicians on the floor questioned the delay.
Robert L. Poole, PharmD; Tessa Dixon, PharmD| December 1, 2010
Following a vehicle collision, a man admitted to the hospital was given a twofold overdose of dexamethasone, due to confusion about administration instructions on a multidose vial.
Annie Wong-Beringer, PharmD| December 1, 2010
A patient on palliative chemotherapy was given intravenous vancomycin for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), despite a rising creatinine level, and went into acute kidney failure.
Beth Devine, PharmD, MBA, PhD| April 1, 2010
A medication dispensing error causes nausea, sweating, and irregular heartbeat in an elderly man with a history of cardiac arrhythmia. Investigation reveals that the patient was given thyroid replacement medication instead of antiarrhythmic medication.
William W. Churchill, MS, RPh; Karen Fiumara, PharmD| April 1, 2009
A powerful anti-clotting medication is ordered for a patient admitted for coronary intervention. Due to a forcing function in the computer order entry system, the intern enters an arbitrary maintenance infusion rate, assuming that the pharmacy will fix it if it is wrong. The pharmacy dispenses it as written, and the nurse administers it—underdosing the patient by a factor of 40.