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Top Microsoft Designer Sues Hospital After Becoming Paraplegic

A former top Microsoft designer sued Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, WA after he became a paraplegic. The designer, now working at Pinterest, obtained a $20 million settlement from the hospital.

On May 11, 2013, the designer slipped off his bed while shifting around. The day after, suffering from back and abdominal pain, the designer visited Overlake. At his initial visit, the designer received an imaging scan. He suffers from an autoimmune disorder known as anklylosing spondylitis, or AS. He notified the doctors he had AS and feared he suffered a back fracture from the fall.

A physician reassured the patient he did not have a fracture and released him home. In reality, a scan detected a hairline fracture in his back. The first ER doctor did not note in the medical records he had AS and feared he had a back fracture until five days after the visit. AS is a disorder that causes the spine to become brittle and susceptible to fracture from trauma. The medical team was missing critical information about the patient when the designer returned to the emergency room complaining about pain in his wrist and legs.

When doctors and other medical professionals at the hospital broke down in communications, and did not listen to the designer’s repeated warnings about a back fracture, he became confined to a wheelchair. The doctors did not pay attention to a back fracture because they focused on the designer’s abdominal pain.

The designer underwent a lumbar MRI and a thoracic MRI scan. The designer suffered pain and lost feeling in his legs, according to court documents. Scans detected a back fracture which left the designer paralyzed. The designer will not walk again.

After the settlement, Overlake agreed to work with the designer, age 45, on a case study to analyze how and why the circumstances went wrong for him. The designer does not want another person to become paralyzed like him. He did not want to treat what happened to him as a situation limited to a single medical provider and patient.

The designer wants to make healthcare safer for patients. Overlake was open to transparency, and hospital reforms on patient safety. The aim of the case study, which involves top Overlake management and the designer’s own network of designers with expertise at identifying systems problems, uses the lessons learned to develop solutions to prevent future similar situations at the hospital, and possibly other medical facilities.

The case study is not novel. Other medical malpractice settlements have included promises by hospitals to make particular changes in practice or policies in response to a case. However, the case study differs from other studies in that the hospital’s top executives are collaborating with the injured designer after a settlement to investigate and perhaps propose disruptive changes.

The designer chose to file suit against the hospital with a law firm that rejected requests by doctors and hospitals for to put confidentiality agreements in medical malpractice case settlements. The law firm believes transparency in medical errors cases is necessary to drive reform in the healthcare industry.

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