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
This case involves a procedural sedation error in a 3-year-old patient who presented to the... Read More
This Spotlight Case highlights two cases of falls in older patients in nursing homes. The commentary discusses how risk factors... Read More
This case represents a known but generally preventable complication of calcium chloride infusion, eventually necessitating surgical... Read More
All WebM&M: Case Studies (603)
- Communication Improvement(325)
- Quality Improvement Strategies(176)
- Education and Training(150)
- Technologic Approaches(129)
- Human Factors Engineering(119)
- Error Reporting and Analysis(75)
- Specialization of Care(49)
- Logistical Approaches(41)
- Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE)(40)
- Culture of Safety(35)
- Legal and Policy Approaches(35)
- Computerized Decision Support(31)
- Policies and Operations(14)
- Care Coordination(4)
- Transparency and Accountability(2)
- Medication Safety(191)
- Discontinuities, Gaps, and Hand-Off Problems(176)
- Diagnostic Errors(141)
- Surgical Complications(86)
- Medical Complications(67)
- Device-Related Complications(58)
- Nonsurgical Procedural Complications(43)
- Psychological and Social Complications(40)
- Identification Errors(32)
- Interruptions and distractions(23)
- Alert fatigue(12)
- Transfusion Complications(6)
- Failure to rescue(4)
- Inpatient suicide(4)
- MRI safety(4)
- Second victims(2)
- Drug shortages(1)
- Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation(1)
- Transitions of Care(1)
This Spotlight Case highlights two cases of falls in older patients in nursing homes. The commentary discusses how risk factors for falls should be considered in care planning and approaches to fall prevention in long-term care settings.
This case involves a procedural sedation error in a 3-year-old patient who presented to the Emergency Department with a left posterior hip dislocation. The commentary summarizes the indications and risks of procedural sedation in non-surgical settings and highlights the value of implementing system-wide safety protocols and practices to prevent medication administration errors during high-risk procedures.
This case represents a known but generally preventable complication of calcium chloride infusion, eventually necessitating surgical amputation of the patient’s left fourth (ring) finger. The commentary discusses the importance of correctly identifying IV fluids as irritants or vesicants, risks associated with the use of vesicants such as calcium chloride, and the role of early recognition of infiltration and extravasation and symptom management to minimize tissue damage and accelerate healing.
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 psychiatrist evaluated the patient but recommended sending her home on a benzodiazepine alone, under observation by her mother. The commentary discusses challenges in assessing suicide risk and establishing the underlying diagnosis after a suicide attempt, the importance of managing relationships between psychiatric consultants and other physicians, and the role of appropriate pharmacotherapy and follow-up after the patient has medically recovered from a suicide attempt.
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 procedure. However, there was a lack of clear communication regarding the operator’s confidence in the success of endoscopic closure and their recommendations for the modality and timing of follow-up imaging, which ultimately led to significant delays in patient care. The commentary discusses the importance of clear communication and hand-offs between proceduralists and other healthcare team members.
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 delayed for several months due to diagnostic biases. After she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during a visit to her local emergency department and was airlifted to a tertiary care facility, she was found to be in adrenal crisis secondary to Addison’s disease. The commentary summarizes common diagnostic hazards and the importance of including rare and dangerous conditions (“zebras”) in the differential diagnosis for common complaints to prevent diagnostic errors.
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 in a sitting position because the operating room (OR) table was too narrow. However, while the team was moving him from the OR table to the gurney, a nurse inadvertently pulled on the anesthetic machine hoses. The endotracheal tube became dislodged and the patient could not be ventilated. The commentary discusses considerations for regional versus general anesthesia and appropriate steps for extubation in obese and other high-risk patients, including the use of high flow nasal oxygen.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.