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$2.5 Million Settles Lawsuit Over Delayed MRI

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Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-based HMO, has paid $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed delays in scheduling and reading a patient’s MRI exam led to permanent bladder and colon injuries and partial leg paralysis.

Shari Stoican, 51, of Edmonds, Washington,  saw Group Health providers on June 15, 2010, complaining of hip pain, foot numbness, and calf cramping. When the pain started, she told the seattlepi online newspaper:

Woke up the next morning, rolled out of bed to say my prayers, and I couldn’t get up.

Over the next three weeks, her condition deteriorated. She was falling down two or three times a day, Stoican said.

In a statement accompanying the settlement, according to the Seattle Times, Stoican said she repeatedly told Group Health about her worsening symptoms. But, she said, “I could not get through the Group Health maze to see the type of medical providers I needed to see.”

Eventually, she said, Group Health scheduled an MRI—for late July. She got it rescheduled for July 2, a Friday. But because of the long holiday weekend, the results weren’t read until four days later. By then, she had lost control of her bladder and bowels.

The MRI revealed a large cyst compressing her spinal nerves. Surgery could not restore full bowel and bladder function or full use of her legs. Her lawyer, Jeffrey Campiche, said:

Had an MRI been ordered and Shari been examined correctly early on, she would likely be fine today.

Campiche added, “It is a lesson that Group Health needs to take to heart.”

Apparently, it hasn’t. Group Health declined to discuss details of Stoican’s case, of course, but it nonetheless issued a statement that blamed the patient: “The attending physician can order an urgent reading of a medical image if the patient communicates acute symptoms or there is an emergent injury. This means the imaging will be read by radiology immediately.

“If the patient does not communicate critical symptoms or an emergent issue is not apparent, the reading of the image is delivered within the next business day.”

Group Health spokeswoman Katie McCarthy said, “Our physicians and other health-care team members work hard to ensure that the care and service we provide meet their patients’ expectations and needs.”

Oh, boy. There’s so much one could say about the wisdom of spouting such defensive boilerplate in such a situation, but we’ll do what Group Health should have done and decline to comment.

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Related seminar: UCSF Abdominal and Pelvic Imaging: CT/MR/US

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