Kidney Transplant Mix-up

By ThinkReliability Staff

On January 29, 2011, a kidney was transplanted into the wrong patient.  No one was injured, but this was known as a “near miss” – had things gone slightly differently, it could have resulted in severe consequences.  Namely, the patient who received the incorrect kidney could have been killed or seriously injured, had the kidney not happened to be compatible with that patient also.  (The kidney donor had Type O blood, known as the universal donor, which aided in the compatibility.)  The patient who was supposed to receive the kidney could have had a long wait back  on the transplant list.  Luckily, a new donor was found for the second kidney and a new kidney was found for the second donor fairly quickly.  Although there were no injuries, the high potential for injury results in an impact to the patient safety goal.

To try and help figure out what went wrong, we begin with the impacted goal and ask “Why” questions to fill out the analysis. We discover that there were two kidneys that arrived at the hospital simultaneously.  In order for the kidneys to be switched, the kidneys must have been mislabeled, or miss-identified once at the hospital.  The coordinating agency for transplants states that the packaging and labeling of the organs was correct.  We then turn our focus to the identification steps of the organ once at the transplant center.

To aid in determining where process improvements can be made, first we need to define the process.  We can do this with a process map – a step by step instruction of how a process is performed.  In this case, the steps for transplants have been developed by an outside agency – the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).  We can outline these steps in our Process Map.  Because of the high risk for consequence should an error occur, the process is well-defined and consists of checks to ensure that mismatches do not occur.  The last highly publicized incident of a transplant error was in 2003 (see more about that incident here).

The hospital involved has not released details about what might have occurred in the process; however, it’s certain that they’re looking at the process with a fine-tooth comb and trying to implement improvements.  The transplant program has closed down while they’re doing so.