In Lessons

One of the most interesting and unique individuals I have ever met is Zubin Damania, aka ZDoggMD.

A UCSF and Stanford trained physician in internal and hospital medicine, ZDogg is a brilliant healthcare innovator and remarkable entertainer.

I first heard him speak at the annual Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group Physicians’ Day. Held in the Maryland Harbor, which is a time to thank attendees for their remarkable dedication and clinical expertise. The speakers that day included bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, alongside airline captain and hero Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, best known for the “Miracle on the Hudson, and Zubin, who had just moved to Las Vegas at the request of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to start a next-generation healthcare program.

At the event, Zubin was as entertaining and educational as the two great men with whom he shared the stage. His ideas were brilliant and his presentation included his trademark singing parodies, complete with the kind of catchy rap lyrics I can still remember to this day. If you’ve never heard one of his songs, please check him out on YouTube, especially here and here. His medical school commencement speech from USCF is a must-see, and you can tell by watching it that ZDogg was destined for big things.

Unfortunately, his experiment in primary care – the one launched in partnership with the Zappos CEO – hit a major snag for reasons that I plan to describe in an upcoming Forbes blog in much greater detail. In short, its failure was not from a lack of commitment, effort or vision. Rather, it reflected the failings of the American healthcare system and its flawed reimbursement model.

When ZDogg contacted me to be a guest on his nightly Facebook Live show, I couldn’t resist flying out to Las Vegas to sit down with him in person. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect other than a fun experience. When it was all said and done, I was amazed how fast time flew by – did we really speak for over an hour? More so, I was shocked by the size of the audience. Within 24 hours, our interview was seen by more than 50,000 viewers, who had submitted more than 300 questions in the comments thread.

Some of our discussion focused on my book “Mistreated: Why We Think We’re Getting Good Healthcare—And Why We’re Usually Wrong.” But most of the conversation looked deeper into why we in the United States retain a “sick system” rather than a “health system.”

ZDogg and I shared a common view that when our payment system rewards medical interventions far more than avoiding medical problems in the first place, costs will inevitably rise and clinical outcomes will suffer. We recognize how medical problems today differ from the past, and the crucial role that coordination and collaboration play across specialties – something lacking in the fragmented system of care found in most communities today. And we were both certain that until we restored primary care to the level of respect it deserves, American health will continue to decline.

I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and was inspired by his dedication to improving medicine. In the end, I was most impressed by the mission-driven spirit demonstrated not only by Zubin but also by his small and mighty team of engineers and cameramen. Ultimately, change in healthcare will require top-down programs and approaches from visionary physician leaders. But I can confidently say that the grassroots work ZDogg is executing is unlike anything I have seen in American medicine. His passion is unmatched and the connections he makes with medical professionals and patients alike will continue to become a growing force in the ongoing healthcare debate. I encourage everyone to check out his videos, and to enjoy his wit and poignant insights.

Dr. Robert Pearl is the bestselling author of “Mistreated: Why We Think We’re Getting Good Health Care–And Why We’re Usually Wrong” and a Stanford University professor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertPearlMD

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