Turntable Health launched in Las Vegas in 2013 and looked to turn the traditional primary care model on its head.
Zubin Damania has a face for television, a mind for medicine and the sort of fearless personality required to be one of the internet’s most famous MDs.
Damania’s celebrity began in earnest not long after someone posted a clip from his 1999 UCSF Medical School commencement address. In his opening, Damania jokes that he’s on a “time delay,” given his reputation as a “loose cannon.” The rest of the clip, which has been viewed over 130,000 times on YouTube, takes you briefly inside the mind of a versatile entertainer and healthcare visionary.
From UCSF, Damania completed his internal medicine residency at Stanford University. He spent the next 10 years as a practicing hospitalist by day and a healthcare satirist by night – writing, performing and filming musical parodies about the frustrations of being a doctor. He’s best known today by his online persona, ZDoggMD, and for his nightly Facebook show, covering the latest medical news with his trademark wit.
The rise and fall of Turntable Health
In 2013, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh asked Damania to launch a next-generation medical clinic in Las Vegas as part of a $350 million downtown revitalization project. Founded as a primary care practice, Turntable Health looked to turn healthcare delivery on its head.
Inside a waiting room that resembled a sleek Silicon Valley startup, Turntable members passed the time by spinning records, playing Xbox and practicing yoga. As part of their membership, patients had access to an entire “wellness ecosystem,” complete with same-day visits, 24/7 doctor access (by email, phone or video), along with a dedicated health coach. Doctors at the clinic spent 45 minutes or more with their patients, quite unlike the 13 to 16-minute visits that have become standard in U.S. doctors’ offices.
Damania credits the vision for his clinic to a partnership he forged with Rushika Fernandopulle, CEO of another innovative primary-care organization called Iora Health. With Fernandopulle’s guidance, Damania focused on population health and disease prevention to improve patient wellness and, over time, lower costs. And rather than charging for each visit, test or procedure, Turntable patients who were not covered by traditional insurance paid a flat fee of $80 a month.
Unlike any other primary care clinic in Las Vegas, Turntable Health was a success, medically. By emphasizing prevention and doctor-patient relationships, Damania’s practice achieved superior quality outcomes, while providing rapid access to care and high patient satisfaction. But from an economic perspective, the clinic was a bust. Insurers shied away from member fees, insisting on more traditional reimbursements, which directly contradicted Damania’s long-term health strategy. Turntable Health was forced to close its doors in January 2017, just three years after opening.
In a public statement, Damania explained: “We flatly refused to compromise when pressured by payers to offer fee-for-service options, or to begin charging a co-pay. We firmly believe that healthcare is a relationship, not a transaction.”
Unfortunately for Damania, most health insurers are too impatient. Investing in primary care and chronic-disease management is proven to reduce and even avoid medical problems. But it can take five to 10 years for the improvements in the health of patients to offset the added upfront costs of providing the necessary care. Health plans worry patients will switch insurers before they can recoup such a long-term investment.
Primary care doctors can and do play a critical role in preventing disease, spurring lifestyle changes and warding off complications from chronic illness, when they have the time to do so. Today’s fee-for-service payment system doesn’t adequately reward these efforts.
Today’s insurers are systematically reducing primary care reimbursements, forcing doctors to see 20 to 30 patients a day while spending the bulk of their time in front of a computer, entering patient data for billing purposes. This backward approach to care delivery is wreaking havoc on the nation’s health and economy. As the incidence of chronic disease grows, the cost of American healthcare continues to rise more rapidly than the nation’s ability to pay.
The closure of Turntable Health was a major loss for Las Vegas, where residents joke that the best place to go for healthcare is the airport. Compared to people with access to integrated and coordinated medical care programs, Las Vegans are less likely to be insured, get the recommended cancer screenings and receive other necessary preventive care interventions.
Pushing primary care: Iora Health and One Medical
Damania’s partner in primary care, Iora Health, is experiencing relative success nationally, with 30+ clinics in 11 metropolitan areas. Using the same model of patient engagement and prevention that Turntable adopted, Iora has shown 35% to 40% drops in hospitalizations compared to their community peers, with 12% to 15% lower total healthcare costs. They’ve also established contracts with insurance companies who are willing to invest in primary care, thus solving one of ZDogg’s biggest challenges.
And they’re not alone. One of Iora’s leading competitors, One Medical, operates out of San Francisco under the leadership of Dr. Tom Lee. Labeled by some as a “concierge” medical practice, the company’s network includes 250+ doctors in 40 cities coast to coast. One Medical offers patients the ability to schedule same-day appointments, access their health records online, and fill prescriptions using the One Medical app – all for a relatively affordable yearly fee of about $149. With a promise that “your care is our highest priority,” the company makes the primary care experience more convenient and user friendly, a mission that’s been paying off since 2007. One Medical’s subscriber base continues to grow by tens of thousands of patients each year, particularly within the tech industry.
Although these extremely well-run primary care systems have improved outpatient quality and patient satisfaction, their impact on overall healthcare costs remains minimal. If Americans want to make healthcare affordable again, the scope and pace of change will need to accelerate at every point of care. This will require innovative approaches that rein in the rapidly escalating costs of specialty and hospital care, where most added national healthcare expenditures (NHE) exist.