Alexander Dobranowski’s 15-year journey as a physician and health care innovator literally started with a stumble.
In the early 2000s, the Dundas, Ont.-raised Dr. Dobranowski was an up-and-coming track-and-field star. A national junior record holder, he competed in the Pan American Games in 2003, and by 2006 he was studying commerce at the University of Tennessee on an athletic scholarship.
But his promising athletic career was jeopardized when his right leg gave out while running hurdles during a decathlon.
The diagnosis was exertional compartment syndrome, a musculoskeletal condition brought on by exercise. It’s when the tissue encasing the muscle doesn’t expand during exercise, causing intense pain. Months later, surgery to repair the condition caused a nerve injury.
“My track career was essentially over, just like that,” he recalls. “When something that’s your whole focus in life just ends, that’s a difficult pill to swallow.”
After a long, painful rehabilitation, including multiple surgeries, Dr. Dobranowski began to see a different future, this time in medicine.
The pivot from business to health care wasn’t entirely out of character: His father was a radiologist in Ontario and Dr. Dobranowski had always been fascinated by health care. However, it was his personal experience in the medical system that convinced him to make the move.
In 2007, he moved to Australia and enrolled at the University of Adelaide to study medicine. But his background in business and fascination with cutting-edge technology never left him.
Over the next 10 years, first as a student and then while training as a junior doctor in Australian hospitals, he began to see more clearly the sometimes-dangerous inefficiencies plaguing the health care system. The health professionals weren’t at fault, he says. Instead, the problem was systemic in a health care system not set up to take advantage of the latest innovations.
Dr. Dobranowski points to an example from his time working as a doctor in Australia when a patient came to emergency complaining of severe abdominal pain. He and the other health care professionals focused solely on the painful area, which turned out to be a mistake.
“We had both X-rays and CT [computerized tomography] scans done, and we were so focused on the abdomen that the whole team missed a lesion in the patient’s lung,” he says. “You could see it on the imaging, but we were all so focused on the acute issue that we didn’t notice it.”
The patient was treated and discharged, only to return months later with advanced lung cancer.
In 2016, Dr. Dobranowski returned to Canada and worked on several technology initiatives, including co-founding Deepscreen AI, his first foray into using high tech to improve patient outcomes. The company developed workflow optimization tools that were initially focused on medical imaging but then evolved to focus on the primary care setting. It was the kind of innovation that helps doctors work in a more supported and safe environment.
“Traditionally, we used to view innovation in health care as something that happened over years, or decades,” Dr. Dobranowski says. “That no longer makes sense given how fast technology moves, but there’s often been a traditional resistance to adopting novel solutions in health care.”
Soon after returning to Canada, Dr. Dobranowski connected with Sven Grail, one of the principal owners of what was then known as MCI Medical Clinics Inc., who shared his desire to speed up the often-sluggish pace of change in the industry.
MCI was not a new player in the Canadian health space. For more than 30 years, it’s operated one of the largest primary-care networks in the country. By the time Dr. Dobranowski and Dr. Grail met, MCI had 25 clinics across Canada, seeing more than 850,000 patients annually.
“We thought, ‘Okay, Dr. Grail owns MCI Medical, this very large primary care network,” Dr. Dobranowski recalls. “What if we took that foundation, all of that clinical information being aggregated, and used it to create improved patient outcomes in a way that’s never been done before?” In 2018, Dr. Dobranowski became director of technology with MCI, working to build a “technology roadmap” and assemble a team of engineers and data scientists who could collaborate with the company’s physicians to pioneer a new approach to primary care. Last year, MCI reimagined itself as MCI Onehealth Technologies (DRDR-T), with Dr. Dobranowski as chief executive officer.
MCI is now blending the bricks-and-mortar infrastructure with a nation-leading virtual care network. The Toronto-based company is also developing an innovative data-analytics platform, taking the information generated by MCI’s millions of patient records and using it to build AI algorithms that can better understand disease progression, extract new insights about treatment, and find patterns in individual patient’s records to improve their diagnoses and treatments.
“We’re at the point where we can process large amounts of data fast enough to run these types of analytics in a cost-effective way,” Dr. Dobranowski says. “People are wearing wearables that are constantly and passively collecting data. You can measure vital signs remotely. You can start using predictive technologies to see what a patient’s biomarkers are, and if they’ve fallen off a little, and then decide to start treating sooner. It’s not about replacing the doctor; it’s about supporting them.”
Dr. Dobranowski’s career is much different than the one he pictured on the track in Tennessee years ago, but one he wouldn’t trade given the strides MCI is making in the health care field.
“When technology is developed, validated and scaled, that’s inspiring,” he says. “To see it having an impact on hundreds, thousands of lives, and beyond… that’s the most incredible thing. Why wouldn’t I want to be doing that?”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with MCI. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.