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HL20: Michael Graves—Patient Experience From the Patient's Experience

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Michael Graves.

This profile was published in the December, 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

 "It is about design, but there's always a human being who is the client."

In 2003, celebrated architect and designer Michael Graves was suffering from what he and his doctor thought was a common sinus infection. Within 24 hours, Graves was paralyzed from the waist down. Though Graves still had the use of his hands, the life-altering change profoundly impacted him and his work. Just four years earlier, Graves was a National Medal of Arts recipient. In 1999, he also signed on as a partner with retailing giant Target, which launched him to the rare "starchitect" status. But, Graves' paralysis also meant there was a new set of discerning and design oriented eyes that would show the healthcare industry how to make products easier for patients, like him, to use.

"I was in eight hospitals and four rehab centers," Graves says. "It was like a bad dormitory. There was an old string to pull your light on, and it would break and you would have to call the nurse."

Moving around the numerous hospital and rehab rooms in a wheelchair revealed how simple tasks were disrupted because so much was out of reach, especially in and around the bathroom.

"The mirror was above your head—clearly meant for someone standing. You couldn't comb your hair or brush your teeth or shave because the faucets were out of reach" he says. "So, I determined that we would clear a place on our business plate and make room for healthcare along with our other endeavors."

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