The Optimized Doctor

Combining teamwork and technology when tragedy strikes


I’m the new chief of service for the department of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. We are hiring, so I’ve been working on my answers to astute questions about how we at Kaiser Permanente differ from other health systems and why I love our medical group. Many points of differentiation involve how we work as an integrated system and how we are compensated for effective care instead of simply volume of care.

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio

Dr. Jeffrey Benabio

Unfortunately, this week I’ve developed a better answer. A tragedy struck one of our doctors. As I reflect on how we recovered as a team, I’ve found that this story captures what it means to be a Permanente physician.

There are more than 70 dermatologists and staff in our department, and we all play a role in meeting the access needs of our patients. When one of our docs emailed me at 4 a.m. to tell me of a terrible catastrophe that struck her family, it set off a somber day for our team. In addition to offering our sympathy to her, we got right to work to help her. She needed time off to be with her family, and like all of us, she had full schedules booked for weeks ahead.

By 6 a.m., our administrative team was aware and working to recover. We canceled her clinic, and, using scheduling software, identified dermatologists in our department who might be able to help. With a few clicks, we reassigned patients from her to me and others who immediately volunteered. This was seamless as far as the patients would be concerned. Patients coming in within hours that morning were picked up by other doctors; one by one, they added them to their schedules.

Every doctor in San Diego has a Kaiser Permanente–issued smartphone. These allowed us to quickly email, text, and message to coordinate our efforts. Each of us dermatologists connected to her in-basket in our electronic medical record and set to work sending out her biopsy results, answering her secure email messages, and calling her patients. Others volunteered to cover her call, and we reassigned her teledermatology shifts with just a click. By noon, all her responsibilities as a dermatologist had been accounted for, allowing her to focus on her family. Teamwork was enabled by our digital system of care.

This story isn’t a sales pitch. We wish it had never happened. But it might be the best answer to the question of why we love working here. When we combine team plus technology to care for our patients and to care for each other, there’s no medical group we’d rather be.

I hope this is the last tragedy to befall us as a department. And if it is not, I hope to have just this same team around me to cope.

I’m sure others have similar stories of how technology helped them work as a team. Please send them to me at; I’d like to write a follow-up piece.

Dr. Benabio is director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. He is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at

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