MGMA 2017: Doctors must remember their calling and create healthcare 3.0, says Zubin Damania

ANAHEIM, California—His rap songs made them laugh, but his message brought his audience to their feet.

Zubin Damania, M.D., also known as the rapper ZDoggMD, got a standing ovation with his call to physicians and other healthcare professionals to remember that medicine is a calling and that they must create what he calls healthcare 3.0.

Damania, a keynote speaker at the Medical Group Management Association's annual conference here this week, said most people go into medicine because they want to use their skills to change the world. Years go by and they get worn down trying to get a prior authorization for a test a patient needs or trying to remember what MACRA stands for.

Zubin Damania
Zubin Damania

But Damania urged the audience to get reconnected with the passion that made them want to go into medicine in the first place and help build the next version of healthcare.

His story

A chubby kid with a funny name, Damania said he won acceptance with his empathy and humor and wanted to be like his hero, "Weird Al" Yankovic. He witnessed the art of medicine at his immigrant father’s clinic in California. Despite his father’s warnings, he decided he wanted to be a primary care physician. But after 10 years as a doctor at Stanford University, Damania, like many other doctors, said he was depressed and suffering from classic burnout.

That hit home when his then-5-year-old daughter, a stethoscope draped around her neck, told him that she wanted to be a doctor like him because he helps people every day.

Damania said he wishes he'd told her that medicine is a calling and it’s a gift to be a healer. Instead, he told her, “Hey, leave Daddy alone. I’ve got three hours of charting on Epic before I can go to bed.”

He decided he wanted to change the system by taking on the persona of ZDoggMD, a rapper. He made rap videos that he posted on YouTube that took on issues focusing on the frustration of work as a doctor, like the electronic health record and the need to discuss patients’ end-of-life issues. People came for the videos and parodies and stayed for the discussion about how to change healthcare, he said.

A new model and failure

Damania wrote another chapter of his life when he was contacted by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who told him he was investing in startups and wanted Damania to come to Las Vegas and start up a Healthcare 3.0 clinic.

Damania moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas and founded Turntable Health, a direct primary care clinic in downtown Las Vegas, funded by Hsieh and in partnership with the startup Iora Health. The clinic focused on prevention and used a membership model. Turntable partnered with Nevada Health CO-OP, an insurer created by the Affordable Care Act.

The practice served 3,000 to 4,000 patients. One staff member taught patients meditation. Health coaches helped free up doctors to spend more time with patients. People learned how to cook healthy meals in a clinic kitchen. Computer screens were placed so that patients could see what doctors typed in their chart. The clinic saw a 50% reduction in hospital admissions among patients and a 54% drop in emergency visits.

But it wasn't enough. “We failed, Damania said, noting its insurer went out of business. "In January we closed.” 

Payment models haven’t caught up to new models of healthcare, he said. “That’s the tragedy. We went out of business but we started a model” that others can duplicate or that would work when the government pays doctors to keep people well.

“I know it can work. I’ve seen it,” he said, urging the audience to also work to change the dysfunctional system of healthcare. “Reconnect with your calling. Build healthcare 3.0,” he told the audience, who reacted with the standing ovation.

Check out Damania's anthem to physician's frustration with technology and his call to "let doctors be doctors," in his video, "EHR State of Mind":