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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 (69)

Published Date
PSNet Publication Date
1 - 20 of 69 WebM&M Case Studies
Katrina Pasao, MD and Pouria Kashkouli, MD, MS | March 31, 2022

This Spotlight Case describes an older man incidentally diagnosed with prostate cancer, with metastases to the bone. He was seen in clinic one month after that discharge, without family present, and scheduled for outpatient biopsy. He showed up to the biopsy without adequate preparation and so it was rescheduled. He did not show up to the following four oncology appointments. Over the course of the following year, the patient’s son and daughter were contacted at various points to re-establish care, but he continued to miss scheduled appointments and treatments. During a hospital admission, a palliative care team determined that the patient did not have capacity to make complex medical decisions. He was discharged to a skilled nursing facility, and then to a board and care when he failed to improve. He missed two more oncology appointments before being admitted with cancer-related pain. Based on the patient’s poor functional status, he was not considered a candidate for additional therapy. After a discussion of goals of care with the patient and daughter, he was enrolled in hospice. The commentary outlines key elements for assessing patient capacity, the importance of understanding the patient’s psychosocial history, and strategies to strengthen psychosocial training for medical and nursing trainees.

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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. The impact of the delay was lessened by the hospice team who role modeled integration of disease directed therapy with palliative care, a departure from the historic model of separation of hospice from disease treatment. 

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Gary S. Leiserowitz, MD, MS and Herman Hedriana, MD| November 30, 2021

A 32-year-old pregnant woman presented with prelabor rupture of membranes at 37 weeks’ gestation. During labor, the fetal heart rate dropped suddenly and the obstetric provider diagnosed umbilical cord prolapse and called for an emergency cesarean delivery. Uterine atony was noted after delivery of the placenta, which quickly responded to oxytocin bolus and uterine massage. After delivery, the patient was transferred to the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) and monitored for 90 minutes, after which she was deemed stable, despite some abnormal vital signs. All monitor alarm functions were silenced to help the patient rest until a bed became available on the maternity floor. After another 90 minutes, the patient’s nurse discovered her unresponsive and the bedsheets were blood-soaked. A massive transfusion was ordered and uterotonic medications were administered, but vaginal bleeding continued. During an emergency laparotomy, the uterus was noted to be atonic despite uterotonic therapy, requiring an emergency hysterectomy. The commentary discusses the importance and use of early maternal warning systems, checklists and protocols to avoid poor maternal outcomes.

Sarina Fazio, PhD, RN, Emma Blackmon, PhD, RN, Amy Doroy, PhD, RN, Ai Nhat Vu and Paul MacDowell, PharmD. | May 26, 2021

A 64-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital for aortic valve replacement and aortic aneurysm repair. Following surgery, she became hypotensive and was given intravenous fluid boluses and vasopressor support with norepinephrine. On postoperative day 2, a fluid bolus was ordered; however, the fluid bag was attached to the IV line that had the vasopressor at a Y-site and the bolus was initiated. The error was recognized after 15 minutes of infusion, but the patient had ongoing hypotension following the inadvertent bolus. The commentary summarizes the common errors associated with administration of multiple intravenous infusions in intensive care settings and gives recommendations for reducing errors associated with co-administration of infusions.

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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.

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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Rebecca K. Krisman, MD, MPH and Hannah Spero, MSN, APRN, NP-C | December 23, 2020

A 65-year-old man with metastatic cancer and past medical history of schizophrenia, developmental delay, and COPD was admitted to the hospital with a spinal fracture. He experienced postoperative complications and continued to require intermittent oxygen and BIPAP in the intensive care unit (ICU) to maintain oxygenation. Upon consultation with the palliative care team about goals of care, the patient with telephonic support of his long time caregiver, expressed his wish to go home and the palliative care team, discharge planner, and social services coordinated plans for transfer home. Although no timeline for the transfer had been established, the patient’s code status was changed to “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) with a plan for him to remain in the ICU for a few days to stabilize. Unfortunately, the patient was transferred out of the ICU after the palliative care team left for the weekend and his respiratory status deteriorated. The patient died in the hospital later that week; he was never able to go home as he had wished. The associated commentary describes how care inconsistent with patient goals and wishes is a form of preventable harm, discusses the need for clear communication between care team, and the importance of providers and healthcare team members serving as advocates for their vulnerable patients.

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By Gary S. Leiserowitz, MD, MS and Herman Hedriana, MD| November 25, 2020

After a failed induction at 36 weeks, a 26-year-old woman underwent cesarean delivery which was complicated by significant postpartum hemorrhage. The next day, the patient complained of severe perineal and abdominal pain, which the obstetric team attributed to prolonged pushing during labor. The team was primarily concerned about hypotension, which was thought to be due to hypovolemia from peri-operative blood loss. After several hours, the patient was transferred to the medical intensive care unit (ICU) with persistent hypotension and severe abdominal and perineal pain. She underwent surgery for suspected necrotizing fasciitis, but necrosis was not found. The patient returned to the surgical ICU but deteriorated; she returned to the operating room, where she was found to have necrotizing soft tissue infection, including in the flanks, labia, and uterus. She underwent extensive surgery followed by a lengthy hospital stay. The accompanying commentary discusses the contribution of knowledge deficits and cognitive biases to diagnostic errors and the importance of structured communications between professionals.

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.
Sarina Fazio, PhD, RN and Rachelle Firestone, PharmD, BCCCP| May 27, 2020
A patient with multiple comorbidities and chronic pain was admitted for elective spinal decompression and fusion. The patient was placed on a postoperative patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) for pain control and was later found unresponsive. The case illustrates risks associated with opioid administration through PCA, particularly among patients at high risk for postoperative opioid-induced respiratory depression.
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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.
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.
Erin Stephany Sanchez, MD, Melody Tran-Reina, MD, Kupiri Ackerman-Barger, PhD, RN, Kristine Phung, MD, Mithu Molla, MD, MBA, and Hendry Ton, MD, MS| April 29, 2020
A patient with progressive mixed respiratory failure was admitted to the step-down unit despite the physician team’s request to send the patient to the ICU. The case reveals issues of power dynamics, hierarchies, and implicit bias as young female physicians interact with experienced male members in the interdisciplinary team.
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Mikael Broman, MD, PhD| April 29, 2020
A 54-year old women with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was admitted for chronic respiratory failure. Due to severe hypoxemia, she was intubated, mechanically ventilated and required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). During the hospitalization, she developed clotting problems, which necessitated transfer to the operating room to change one of the ECMO components. On the way back to the intensive care unit, a piece of equipment became snagged on the elevator door and the system alarmed. The perfusionist arrived 30-minutes later and realized that the ECMO machine was introducing room air to the patient’s circulation, leading to air embolism. The patient became severely hypotensive and bradycardic, and despite aggressive attempts at resuscitation, she died.
Two patients admitted for deceased donor renal transplant surgery experienced similar near miss errors involving 1000 ml normal saline bags with 160mg gentamicin intended as bladder irrigation but mistakenly found spiked or next to the patient’s intravenous (IV) line. Confusion about using this nephrotoxic drug intravenously could result in significant harm to patients undergoing renal transplant surgery.
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.
Adrianne M Widaman, PhD, RD | December 18, 2019
A 62-year-old man with a history of malnutrition-related encephalopathy was admitted for possible aspiration pneumonia complicated by empyema and coagulopathy. During the hospitalization, he was uncooperative and exhibited signs of delirium. For a variety of reasons, he spent two weeks in the hospital with minimal oral intake and without receiving most of his oral medications, putting him at risk for complications and adverse outcomes.
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.