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
An adult woman with a history of suicidal ideation was taking prescribed antidepressants, but later required admission to the hospital after overdosing on her prescribed medications. A consulting... Read More
This patient with recently diagnosed adenocarcinoma of the esophagus underwent esophagoscopy with endoscopic ultrasound, which was complicated by thoracic esophageal perforation. The perforation was endoscopically closed during the... Read More
A 48-year-old obese man with a history of obstructive sleep apnea was placed under general anesthesia for corneal surgery. On completion of the operation, the patient was transferred to a motorized gurney to extubate him... Read More
This case describes a 13-year-old girl who presented to several health care providers with typical symptoms, physical signs, and early laboratory findings suggestive of adrenal insufficiency (AI) yet the diagnosis was... Read More
A 72-year-old man was diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia and ileus, and admitted to a specialized COVID care unit. A nasogastric tube (NGT) was placed, supplemental oxygen was provided, and oral feedings were... Read More
This case focuses on immediate-use medication compounding in the operating room and how the process creates situations in which medication errors can occur. The commentary discusses strategies for safe perioperative compounding and the... Read More
All WebM&M: Case Studies (596)
- Communication Improvement(321)
- Quality Improvement Strategies(175)
- Education and Training(150)
- Technologic Approaches(128)
- Human Factors Engineering(118)
- Error Reporting and Analysis(75)
- Specialization of Care(48)
- Logistical Approaches(41)
- Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE)(40)
- Legal and Policy Approaches(35)
- Culture of Safety(34)
- Computerized Decision Support(31)
- Policies and Operations(14)
- Care Coordination(4)
- Transparency and Accountability(2)
- Medication Safety(188)
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems(175)
- Diagnostic Errors(140)
- Surgical Complications(84)
- Medical Complications(66)
- Device-Related Complications(55)
- Nonsurgical Procedural Complications(42)
- Psychological and Social Complications(40)
- Identification Errors(32)
- Interruptions and distractions(23)
- Alert fatigue(12)
- Transfusion Complications(5)
- Failure to rescue(4)
- MRI safety(4)
- Inpatient suicide(3)
- Second victims(2)
- Drug shortages(1)
- Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation(1)
- Transitions of Care(1)
A 72-year-old man was diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia and ileus, and admitted to a specialized COVID care unit. A nasogastric tube (NGT) was placed, supplemental oxygen was provided, and oral feedings were withheld. Early in his hospital stay, the patient developed hyperactive delirium and pulled out his NGT. Haloperidol was ordered for use as needed (“prn”) and the nurse was asked to replace the NGT and confirm placement by X-ray. The bedside and charge nurses had difficulty placing the NGT and the X-ray confirmation was not done. Eight hours later, the patient became hypotensive and hypoxemic and emergent CT revealed a gastric perforation. The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit and ultimately required endotracheal intubation with mechanical ventilation. The commentary discusses the complications associated with nasogastric tube insertion, assessing and treating acute agitation secondary to delirium, and the importance of clear communication during shift changes and handoffs.
This case focuses on immediate-use medication compounding in the operating room and how the process creates situations in which medication errors can occur. The commentary discusses strategies for safe perioperative compounding and the role of standardized processes, such as checklists, to ensure medication safety.
The cases described in this WebM&M reflect fragmented care with lapses in coordination and communication as well as failure to appropriately address medication discrepancies. These two cases involve duplicate therapy errors, which have the potential to cause serious adverse drug events. The commentary summarizes risk factors for medication discrepancies and approaches for safer medication administration, including the use of teach-back counseling, pharmacy-led medication reconciliation during transitions of care, and electronic health record-based strategies for safer prescribing.
A 71-year-old man presented to his physician with rectal bleeding and pain, which was attributed to radiation proctitis following therapy for adenocarcinoma of the prostate. He subsequently developed a potentially life-threatening complication of sepsis while awaiting follow up care for a spontaneous rectal perforation. The commentary addresses the importance of early identification and timely intervention in the event of treatment failure and the post-discharge follow-up programs to improve care coordination and communication during transitions of care.
A 48-year-old woman was placed under general anesthesia with a laryngeal mask. The anesthesiologist was distracted briefly to sign for opioid drugs in a register, and during this time, the end-tidal carbon dioxide alarm sounded. Attempts to manually ventilate the patient were unsuccessful. The anesthesiologist asked for suxamethonium (succinylcholine) but the drug refrigerator was broken and the medication had to be retrieved from another room. The commentary discusses risk factors for laryngospasm, strategies to minimize distractions in the operating room and the importance of readily available neuromuscular blocking drugs and airway resuscitation equipment in operating rooms and other patient areas where laryngospasm is likely to occur.
A 38-year-old man with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) on chronic hemodialysis was admitted for nonhealing, infected lower leg wounds and underwent a below-knee amputation. He suffered from postoperative pain at the operative stump and was treated for four days with regional nerve blocks, as well as gabapentin, intermittent intravenous hydromorphone (which was transitioned to oral oxycodone) and oral hydromorphone. The patient subsequently developed severe metabolic encephalopathy due to overdose of both gabapentin and opiates and failure to reduce medication doses in the setting of ESRD. The commentary discusses pain management and the signs of gabapentin toxicity in patients with renal dysfunction, as well the implications of clinical decision support-related alert fatigue and approaches to reduce adverse events arising from drug-disease interactions.
This WebM&M highlights two cases of hospital-acquired diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) in patients with type 1 diabetes. The commentary discusses the role of the inpatient glycemic team to assist with diabetes management, the importance of medication reconciliation in the emergency department (ED) for high-risk patients on insulin, and strategies to empower patients and caregivers to speak up about medication safety.
A 27-year-old pregnant woman was diagnosed with severe pulmonary arterial hypertension at 29 weeks estimated gestational age (EGA) and admitted for elective cesarean delivery with lumbar epidural anesthesia at 36 weeks EGA. After epidural catheter placement, she suddenly became bradycardic and hypotensive, and within 3 minutes, developed pulseless electrical activity and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) began immediately. An emergent cesarean delivery was performed. After several cycles of unsuccessful CPR, the anesthesia and perinatology teams decided to start veno-arterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit and was weaned off ECMO after five days. She was extubated after nine days in intensive care and survived without any neurological sequelae. The commentary discusses the increase in risk for circulatory collapse among pregnant patients with severe pulmonary hypertension, the role of the multidisciplinary cardio-obstetrics team in planning for potential complications, including a plan for rapid initiation of mechanical support in the event of circulatory collapse.
A 5-day old male infant was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and underwent surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. The patient’s postoperative course was complicated Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia and other problems, requiring venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VA-ECMO) and subsequent cardiac procedures. During these subsequent procedures, he was found to have florid mediastinitis including multiple pockets of purulent material; the chest tissue culture collected during surgery demonstrated Aspergillus fumigatus. The patient returned to PICU with an open chest to optimize antibacterial and antifungal therapies for a hospital-acquired invasive fungal infection in an immunocompetent infant. The commentary discusses environmental factors that contribute to postoperative infections and approaches to mitigating environmental infectious disease hazards in perioperative spaces.
These cases describe the rare but dangerous complication of hematoma following neck surgery. The first case involves a patient with a history of spinal stenosis who was admitted for elective cervical discectomy and cervical disc arthroplasty who went into cardiopulmonary arrest three days post-discharge and could not be intubated due to excessive airway swelling and could not be resuscitated. Autopsy revealed a large hematoma at the operative site, causing compression of the upper airway, which was the suspected cause of respiratory and cardiac arrest. In the second case, the patient underwent an uncomplicated elective thyroid lobectomy but developed increased neck pain and swelling the next day. A large hematoma was identified, and the patient was taken emergently to the operating room for evacuation. The commentary discusses risk factors for postoperative cervical hematomas, the importance of prompt identification and evaluation of cervical hematomas in the early postoperative period, and approaches for managing postoperative cervical hematomas.
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 testing. The patient was admitted to the hospital with gastrointestinal symptoms and diagnosed with cholecystitis and gangrenous gallbladder. Two months after his admission for cholecystitis, he was readmitted for severe vomiting and hypotension. An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with biopsy unexpectedly showed that his duodenum was heavily infiltrated with a parasitic helminth (worm) called Strongyloides stercoralis. He was treated with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin and eventually improved enough to be discharged from the hospital. The commentary summarizes factors contributing to the missed diagnosis of strongyloidiasis, potential consequences of a failure to diagnose this infection, and approaches to identify patients who should be tested for Strongyloides infection.
A 62-year-old Spanish-speaking woman presented to the pre-anesthesia area for elective removal of a left thigh lipoma. Expecting a relatively simple outpatient operation, the anesthesiologist opted not to use a Spanish language translator and performed a quick pre-anesthesia evaluation, obtaining her history from the medical record. Unknown to the anesthesiologist, the patient was trying to communicate to him that she had undergone jaw replacement surgery and that her mouth opening was therefore anatomically limited. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist realized he would need to ventilate the patient, but his view was severely limited, and he was unable to visualize the airway sufficiently for intubation. Eventually the patient was intubated, although both of her central maxillary incisors were dislodged in the process, and she required dental implants to replace the two dislodged teeth. The commentary discusses the importance of conducting preoperative assessments in the patient’s own language and the role of medical interpreting services, as well as approaches to manage patients with difficult airways.
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 discussion was led by the palliative care service; the patient and his designated decision-makers chose to pursue non-operative management of diverticulitis. The condition worsened, signaling failure of non-operative management; following his wishes, he transitioned to comfort-focused end-of-life care. Shortly after this transition, the patient became unresponsive and only showed non-verbal signs of pain. The care team disagreed about how to best manage the patient’s pain and the family expressed anger, anxiety, and frustration that he remained in pain. After 5 days of continued unresponsiveness and non-verbal signs of pain, the patient died. The palliative care team spent many hours with the family helping them to manage their grief and dissatisfaction. The commentary highlights a decision-making framework to consider when creating and implementing care plans (including the importance of patient preferences) and how care teams should handle disagreement with care plans.
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 spinal cord and peripheral nerve injury. During extubation after surgery, the anesthesia care provider noticed a large (approximately 4-5 cm) laceration on the underside of the patient’s tongue, with an associated hematoma. This finding was attributed to the fact that the inexperienced anesthesia care provider was unaware of the fact that motor evoked potentials can cause an anesthetized patient’s jaw to clench quite strongly, and thus had not placed a bite block in the patient's mouth. The patient's tongue laceration resulted in pain and difficulty speaking and the patient was taken back to the operating room so that her tongue laceration could be repaired.
A 58-year-old man underwent a complex surgery to replace his aortic valve. 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 “stone heart” due to suspected ischemic injury and was unable to come off bypass. The patient was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and transported to the ICU to allow family members to see the patient before stopping life support. Post-mortem case review identified several areas of improvement in the implementation of the Communication AND Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) process. The commentary summarizes the CANDOR process and effective implementation.
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 arterial thromboses the right lower extremity and an echocardiogram revealed a thrombus near the prosthetic heart valve. The attending physician ordered discontinuation of warfarin and initiation of a heparin drip. On hospital day 3, the patient’s right leg became discolored and cold, but the healthcare team insisted that she was being treated appropriately; two days later, the patient complained of pain, additional discoloration, and her toes appeared to be turning black. The patient was taken to the Operating Room (OR) to remove the arterial thrombus, but a more extensive operation was needed to restore arterial blood flow. The commentary summarizes the signs of acute limb ischemia and appropriate approaches to prevent and manage arterial thrombosis, particularly among patients on anticoagulants.
A 47-year-old man underwent a navigational bronchoscopy with transbronchial biospy under general anesthesia without complications. The patient was transferred to the post-acute care unit (PACU) for observation and a routine post-procedure chest x-ray (CXR). After the CXR was taken, the attending physician spoke to the patient and discussed his impressions, although he had not yet seen the CXR. He left the PACU without communicating with the bedside nurse, who was caring for other patients. The patient informed the nurse that the attending physician had no concerns. While preparing the patient for discharge, the nurse paged the fellow requesting discharge orders. The fellow assumed that the attending physician had reviewed the CXR and submitted the discharge orders as requested. Thirty minutes after the patient was discharged the radiologist called the care team to alert them to the finding of pneumothorax on the post-procedure CXR. The commentary summarizes complications associated with bronchoscopy and strategies to improve perioperative safety.
A 49-year-old woman presented to an Emergency Department (ED) with abdominal pain nine hours after discharge following outpatient laparoscopic left oophorectomy. The left oophorectomy procedure involved an umbilical port placed using an Optiport visual trocar, a suprapubic port, and two additional ports laterally. The operative note mentioned no visible injury upon entry into the abdominal cavity, but there were extensive adhesions in the pelvis. Nine hours after discharge, the patient presented to another hospital due to increasing pain, nausea, and fever. The patient underwent a laparotomy and the surgical team found fecal contamination upon entry into the peritoneal cavity; the surgeons concluded that the most plausible explanation was a trocar injury. The commentary discusses the risk of vascular and bowel injury during peritoneal access for laparoscopy and the importance of patient history and abdominal anatomy when considering approaches to abdominal entry.
A 61-year-old inpatient was on bedrest following postoperative complications. During the night shift, the hospital unit was short-staffed, and her external catheter system fell off. The patient rang her call button repeatedly to request nursing assistance and eventually hopped down the hallway on one leg to find assistance but was unsuccessful. By the time the nurse came to the bedside to change the patient’s urine-soaked bed pads and sheets, the patient was angry and agitated. The nurse responded defensively and began to talk to the patient in a condescending tone and another nurse complained to the family member that the patient was “behaving badly.” Ultimately, the patient decided to “leave against medical advice,” (AMA), citing she was extremely upset about how she was treated and spoken to. She and her family member were escorted downstairs to leave the hospital. No nurse or physician on duty was able to provide discharge education, instructions, or medications related to her DVT or urinary incontinence. The commentary discusses the risks of patients leaving AMA, summarizes effective communication strategies to mitigate the risk of patients leaving AMA and highlights strategies for prevention and de-escalation.
This case describes a 20-year-old woman was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and occlusive thrombus in the right brachial vein surrounding a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line (type, gauge, and length of time the PICC had been in place were not noted). The patient was discharged home but was not given any supplies for cleaning the PICC line, education regarding the signs of PICC line infection, or referral to home health services. During follow-up several days after discharge, the patient’s primary care provider noted that the PICC dressing was due to be changed and needed to be flushed, but the outpatient setting lacked the necessary supplies. An urgent referral to home health was placed, but the agency would be unable to attend to the patient for several days. The primary care provider changed the dressing, and the patient was referred to the emergency department for assessment. The commentary summarizes the risks of PICC lines, the role of infection prevention practices during the insertion and care of PICC lines, and the importance of patient education and skill assessment prior to discharge home with a PICC line.