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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 (29)

1 - 20 of 29 WebM&M Case Studies
Narath Carlile, MD, MPH, Soheil El-Chemaly, MD, MPH, and Gordon D. Schiff, MD | August 25, 2021

A 31-year-old woman presented to the ED with worsening shortness of breath and was unexpectedly found to have a moderate-sized left pneumothorax, which was treated via a thoracostomy tube. After additional work-up and computed tomography (CT) imaging, she was told that she had some blebs and mild emphysema, but was discharged without any specific follow-up instructions except to see her primary care physician. Three days later, the patient returned to the same ED with similar symptoms and again was found to have had a left pneumothorax that required chest tube placement, but the underlying cause was not established. After she was found two weeks later in severe respiratory distress, she was taken to another ED by paramedics where the consulting pulmonary physician diagnosed her with a rare cystic lung disease. The commentary discusses the importance of CT scans for evaluating spontaneous pneumothorax and educating providers to increase awareness of rare cystic lung diseases.

Cynthia Li, PharmD, and Katrina Marquez, PharmD| July 28, 2021

This commentary presents two cases highlighting common medication errors in retail pharmacy settings and discusses the importance of mandatory counseling for new medications, use of standardized error reporting processes, and the role of clinical decision support systems (CDSS) in medical decision-making and ensuring medication safety.

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.

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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Janeane Giannini, PharmD, Melinda Wong, PharmD, William Dager, PharmD, Scott MacDonald, MD, and Richard H. White, MD | June 24, 2020
A male patient with history of femoral bypasses underwent thrombolysis and thrombectomy for a popliteal artery occlusion. An error in the discharge education materials resulted in the patient taking incorrect doses of rivaroxaban post-discharge, resulting in a readmission for recurrent right popliteal and posterior tibial occlusion. The commentary discusses the challenges associated with prescribing direct-action oral anticoagulants (DOACs) and how computerized clinical decision support tools can promote adherence to guideline recommendations and mitigate the risk of error, and how tools such as standardized teaching materials and teach-back can support patient understanding of medication-related instructions.
Michelle Hamline, MD, PhD, MAS, Georgia McGlynn, RN, MSN-CNL, CPHQ, Andrew Lee, PharmD, and JoAnne Natale, MD, PhD | May 27, 2020
After undergoing a complete atrioventricular canal defect repair, an infant with trisomy 21 was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and total parenteral nutrition (TPN) was ordered due to low cardiac output. When the TPN order expired, it was not reordered in time for cross-checking by the dietician and pediatric pharmacist and the replacement TPN order was mistakenly entered to include sodium chloride 77 mEq/100 mL, a ten-fold higher concentration than intended. The commentary explores the safety issues with ordering TPN and custom intravenous fluids in a pediatric population, and the critical role of clinical decision support systems and the healthcare team (physicians, pharmacists, nurses and dieticians) in preventing medication-related errors.
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.
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.
Daniel J. Morgan, MD, MS, and Andrew Foy, MD| 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.
Edward Etchells, MD, MSc| June 1, 2015
After multiple visits to both his primary care provider and urgent care for chronic burning left foot pain attributed to peripheral neuropathy, a man presented to the emergency department with worsening symptoms. His left lower leg was dusky and extremely tender, with non-palpable pulses. CT angiography revealed complete blockage of the left superficial femoral artery due to atherosclerotic peripheral arterial disease. The patient required emergent vascular bypass surgery on his left leg, and ultimately, an above-the-knee amputation.
Joseph S. Alpert, MD| November 1, 2012
A woman with new onset chest pain was admitted to the hospital. Although the computer readout of her electrocardiogram stated "***ACUTE MI***" at the top, the nursing assistant who performed the test placed it in the patient's bedside chart without notifying a nurse or physician. The patient was, in fact, having a myocardial infarction, whose treatment was delayed.
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.
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.
Clarence H. Braddock III, MD, MPH| November 1, 2008
A woman with diabetes is admitted to a teaching hospital in July. An intern, who received training at a hospital where only paper orders were used, mistakenly chose the wrong form for the insulin order. As a result, the insulin dose was not adjusted for the patient's NPO (nothing by mouth) status, and she became unresponsive.
Shareen El-Ibiary, PharmD, BCPS| November 1, 2008
A pregnant woman with asthma was admitted to the hospital with respiratory distress. Although the emergency department providers noted that she was pregnant, this information was not conveyed to the floor. On admission, the patient was given an antibiotic that could have been dangerous.
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.
A woman with symptoms of sinusitis was given 2 different courses of broad-spectrum antibiotics, neither of which improved her symptoms. Hospitalized for autoimmune hemolysis (presumably from the antibiotic), the patient suffered multiorgan failure and septic shock, and died.
William Hersh, MD| August 21, 2007
A hospitalized elderly woman had clinical indications to receive medication to prevent venous thromboembolism. The intern noted this in the electronic record, and although this information was copied and pasted in the record on 4 consecutive days, the patient never received the intended prophylaxis and suffered a pulmonary embolism after discharge.
Brian K. Alldredge, PharmD| May 1, 2007
An elderly patient with a seizure disorder (and recent admission for uncontrolled seizures) was admitted to the hospital to evaluate symptoms of lethargy, confusion, and decreased appetite. The team misattributed his mental status change to an infection but later discovered that the patient had phenytoin toxicity.
B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD| March 1, 2007
Several days after a patient’s surgery, preliminary wound cultures grew Staphylococcus aureus. Although the final sensitivity profile for the cultures showed resistance to the antibiotic that the patient was receiving, the care team was not notified and the patient died of sepsis.