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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 16, 2022
Nasim Hedayati, MD, and Richard White, MD | November 16, 2022

A 61-year-old women with a mechanical aortic valve on chronic warfarin therapy was referred to the emergency department (ED) for urgent computed tomography (CT) imaging of the right leg to rule out an arterial clot. CT imaging revealed two... Read More

Leilani Schweitzer | November 16, 2022

A 58-year-old man underwent a complex surgery to replace his aortic value. The surgery required prolonged cardiopulmonary bypass time and cross-clamp time and there was a short delay in redosing the cardioplegic solution and the patient developed ... 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 (33)

Displaying 1 - 20 of 33 WebM&M Case Studies
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.

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.
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.
Neal L. Benowitz, MD| April 1, 2019
A woman who required oxygen at home via nasal cannula and used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine at night was admitted for an exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease without any signs of infection. During her hospital stay, she continued to require 5 liters of oxygen by nasal cannula. Although the patient had received smoking cessation education and no longer smoked regular cigarettes, she did continue to vape with an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). Having not been told to avoid vaping in the hospital, the patient took a puff on her e-cigarette while she was receiving oxygen through her nasal cannula and sparked an explosion. She ripped off the nasal cannula, which had melted, and sustained burns to her face and hand, resulting in a prolonged hospitalization for burn care and extensive pain management.
Nancy Staggers, PhD, RN| October 1, 2017
Hospitalized with sepsis secondary to an infected IV line through which she was receiving treprostnil (a high-alert medication used to treat pulmonary hypertension), a woman was transferred to interventional radiology for placement of a new permanent catheter once the infection cleared. Sign-off between departments included a warning not to flush the line since it would lead to a dangerous overdose. However, while attempting to identify an infusion pump alarm, a radiology technician accidentally flushed the line, which led to a near code situation.
Vinod K. Bhutani, MD, and Ronald J. Wong| October 1, 2017
A newborn with elevated total serum bilirubin (TSB) due to hemolytic disease was placed on a mattress with embedded phototherapy lights for treatment, but the TSB continued to climb. The patient was transferred to the neonatal ICU for an exchange transfusion. The neonatologist requested testing of the phototherapy lights, and their irradiance level was found to be well below the recommended level. The lights were replaced, the patient's TSB level began to drop, and the exchange transfusion was aborted.
Tara Kirkpatrick, MD, and Chad LaGrange, MD| February 1, 2016
Despite mechanical problems with the robotic arms during a robotic-assisted prostatectomy, the surgeon continued using the technology and completed the operation. Following the procedure, the patient developed serious bleeding requiring multiple blood transfusions, several additional surgeries, and a prolonged hospital stay.
Michele M. Pelter, RN, PhD, and Barbara J. Drew, RN, PhD| December 1, 2015
Following a non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, a man was admitted to the hospital and placed on a telemetry monitor. As the monitor was constantly sounding with "low voltage" and "asystole" alerts and the patient was well each time clinicians checked, they silenced the alarms. The patient was found dead 4 hours later.
Matthew S. Russell, MD, and Marika D. Russell, MD| August 21, 2015
Admitted to the hospital with sepsis and pneumonia, an elderly man developed acute respiratory distress syndrome requiring mechanical ventilation. On hospital day 12, clinicians placed a tracheostomy, and a few days later the patient developed acute hypoxia and ultimately went into cardiac arrest when his tracheostomy tube became dislodged.
Diane K. Newman, DNP, MSN; Robyn Strauss, MSN; Liza Abraham, CRNP; and Bridget Major-Joynes, MSN, RN| June 1, 2015
A hospitalized older man with a complicated medical history had not voided in several hours. The patient voided just prior to catheter insertion, which produced no urine, and the nurse assumed that meant the patient's bladder was empty. Two hours later the patient complained of discomfort and a blood clot was found in his tubing. Continuous bladder irrigation was ordered, but the pain became worse. Urgent consultation by urology revealed that the urinary catheter was not in the bladder.
Dustin W. Ballard, MD, MBE; David R. Vinson, MD; and Dustin G. Mark, MD| May 1, 2015
A man with a history of poorly controlled diabetes and pancreatic insufficiency was found unresponsive. Paramedics transported him to the emergency department, where a resident placed a right internal jugular line for access but was unable to confirm placement. The resident pulled the line, opened a second line insertion kit, started over, and confirmed placement with ultrasound. The patient went into cardiac arrest, and a chest radiograph noted a retained guidewire in the pulmonary artery.
Ayse P. Gurses, PhD, and Peter Doyle, PhD| December 1, 2014
An elderly man was being prepared for discharge after being hospitalized for an exacerbation of congestive heart failure. His nurse failed to notice that the tubing of the patient's sequential compression devices (in place to prevent DVT) was caught on the bed wheel and had unlocked the bed when she raised it. When the patient attempted to get up later, the bed rolled out from under him and he fell, breaking his hip. One week after surgery, the patient experienced a cardiac arrest from a massive pulmonary embolism and died.
Michelle Feil, MSN, RN| June 1, 2014
Following removal of a central venous catheter placed during his admission for a prolonged course of intravenous antibiotics, a young man with a history of Behçet disease was discharged from the hospital. Shortly thereafter, he presented to the emergency department with acute onset shortness of breath and a "whistling sound" coming from his neck. Diagnosed with air embolism, he was admitted to the ICU.
Karen Ousey, PhD, RGN| February 1, 2014
A patient admitted for acute liver failure, acute renal failure, respiratory failure, and hepatic encephalopathy had a rectal tube placed to manage diarrhea. Two weeks into his hospitalization, dark red liquid stool was noted in the rectal tube, and the patient was found to have a large ulcerated area in the rectum, likely caused by the tube.
Roy Ilan, MD, MSc| May 1, 2013
A woman was emergently admitted for surgery for acute appendicitis. Although the patient had a chest port for breast cancer chemotherapy, the surgeon demanded that a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) be placed. The patient developed blood clots from the PICC, and surgery was cancelled. Significant complications, including perforation, peritonitis, and prolonged hospitalization, arose from managing the appendicitis conservatively.
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.
Sonia C. Swayze, RN, MA, and Angela James, RN, BSN| March 1, 2013
While drawing labs on a woman admitted after a lung transplant, a nurse failed to clamp the patient's large-bore central line, allowing air to enter the catheter. The patient suffered a cerebral air embolism and was transferred to the ICU for several days.
Mark Ault, MD, and Bradley Rosen, MD, MBA| February 1, 2013
A woman found unresponsive at home presented to the ED via ambulance. The cardiology team used the central line placed during resuscitation to deliver medications and fluids during pacemaker insertion. Hours later, a chest radiograph showed whiteout of the right lung, and clinicians realized that the tip of the line was actually within the lung.
Nancy Moureau, BSN, RN, CRNI, CPUI, VA-BC| December 1, 2012
A woman undergoing treatment for myasthenia gravis via PICC developed extensive catheter-related thrombosis, bacteremia, and sepsis, and ultimately died. Although the PICC line was placed at one facility, the patient was receiving treatment at another, raising questions about who had responsibility for the line.
Chi-Tai Fang, MD, PhD| September 1, 2012
Admitted with a congestive heart failure exacerbation, an elderly man acquired an infection around his peripheral IV site, accompanied by fever, chills, and back pain. Likely secondary to the infected peripheral IV catheter, the patient had developed methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia and an epidural abscess.