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Failure to diagnose back injury paralyzed software designer

A former software designer for Microsoft filed a medical malpractice suit in which he made a request that few people here in Oregon or elsewhere would have considered making. As would be expected, he requested and received a monetary settlement (approximately $20 million) from the hospital whose failure to diagnose his fractured back put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. What is unique about this designer is that he requested -- and received -- the right to work with the hospital that paralyzed him to determine where the breakdowns occurred that led to his permanent injury.

The software designer will be the first to admit that the fall that led to his first emergency room visit was his own fault. He had purchased new bedding and sheets that made it easy for him to slip off the bed. The next day, he was in such excruciating pain that he went to the hospital.

He advised hospital staff that he has an autoimmune disease called anklylosing spondylitis (AS), which causes his brittle spine to fracture easily. He even told doctors that he believed his back could be fractured. In fact, the images taken indicated a fracture, but the doctors missed it because they were focusing more on the man's abdominal pain.

After three more unsuccessful visits to confirm what he already suspected, he was taken in for an MRI. While putting him into position, medical personnel broke his already fractured back. The hospital acknowledges that a serious breakdown in communication occurred that led to the victim being paralyzed. Now, it and the software designer are working together to locate the problem and find a solution that could be used by hospitals across the country -- perhaps even here in Oregon.

Communication issues are more than likely part of nearly every failure to diagnose. Doctors are either not communicating with each other or are not effectively communicating with patients. In either case, a doctor's failure to either listen or document could cause irreparable damage to an innocent patient. Regardless of how busy a doctor might be, correctly diagnosing a patient should be their primary objective.

Source: CNBC, "A hospital's mistake paralyzes a designer. He got $20M, and an unusual promise", Dan Mangan, June 19, 2016

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