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He’s got their backs: engineering, MBA alum finds way to cut wait times for pain patients

Paul Santaguida, BEng 02, MBA 03, says about 90 per cent of people with back problems don’t need surgery or an MRI
June 10, 2019
By Danny Kucharsky

The founders of CareAxis The founders of CareAxis (from left to right): Dr. Carlo Santaguida, a surgeon at the Montreal Neurological Institute (and Paul Santaguida's brother), Toronto chiropractor Dr. Andrew Bidos and Paul Santaguida.

Paul Santaguida, BEng 02, MBA 03, has found a way to reduce patient wait times for the treatment of back and neck pain, the greatest causes of disability in the industrialized world.

He’s the co-founder and CEO of CareAxis, a Montreal-based, non-profit network of specially trained physiotherapists who assess patients for spine conditions. Thirteen physiotherapy clinics in Quebec will be part of the CareAxis network by the end of May.

Patients are given self-management plans, which include specially tailored exercises, demonstration videos and other support to manage their care at home. If necessary, physiotherapists can refer patients for MRIs or to surgeons at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

Filling a gap in health care

“We developed CareAxis because there was a gap in the health-care system and an opportunity to improve it,” Santaguida says. “We’re curbing utilization of costly MRIs and spine surgeons’ time, while improving patient outcomes.”

Patients with back pain can often be expected to wait six to 12 months for a five-minute consultation with a surgeon, often to find they can’t be helped. Research shows patients’ risks of long-term disability or opiate dependency increase markedly while they wait for care.

But with CareAxis, “we’ve short-circuited that pathway. The patient is seen in a couple of days and gets the expert answer they need about their condition.” So far, CareAxis has seen hundreds of patients and about 90 per cent do not need to see a surgeon or get an MRI.

Career devoted to health-care programs

Santaguida’s career has been devoted to the design and implementation of large health-care programs. After graduating, he worked for the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa on innovation and technology policy in the life sciences and health-care sectors. He moved on to the University Health Network in Toronto, where he implemented a surgical quality improvement program in several Ontario hospitals.

During his career, he developed an interest in musculoskeletal care models, which led to the creation of CareAxis. The non-profit has a partnership agreement with the MUHC and generous funding from the Mirella and Lino Saputo Foundation, which provides seniors with free CareAxis assessments. Otherwise, assessments cost $169.

Santaguida says he has been “putting in an insane amount of hours, but it’s a labour of love.” In fact, the prospect of finally having their back pain managed has “literally rendered a couple of patients into tears. They’ve been sobbing over the phone because there’s literally nothing out there for them.”

CareAxis’ trajectory “is quite promising” and he would like to expand the non-profit across Quebec and the Maritimes within the next few years.

Concordia course taught importance of delighting customers

Paul Santaguida at D3 Paul Santaguida has chosen Concordia's District 3 as the home of the innovative health care startup.

Santaguida credits his Concordia experience as having an effect on his view of the world that led him to start CareAxis.

His engineering degree made him “very passionate” about understanding how complex systems like health care work and his MBA had a lasting influence.

While taking his MBA, Santaguida took a Marketing Management course given by Bryan Barbieri that taught the importance of delighting customers. “It’s a simple but incredibly powerful concept. It should permeate everything that we do as entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, our health-care system often fails in this regard.”

However, CareAxis can truly delight patients by helping them manage their back pain without having to set foot in a hospital, he says.

CareAxis has brought Santaguida back to his Concordia roots – it’s based in Concordia’s District 3, an innovation hub for start-ups.

“I rediscovered Concordia through this relationship,” says Santaguida. “It’s been quite impactful. They’ve provided coaching, training, office space and other resources to help us. I’m incredibly grateful to have them.”


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