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Business and science

Barry McNamara
07/21/2011
Dr. Ralph Velazquez credits his MC education for helping him be effective both as a health care professional and an administrator.
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The times, they are a-changin’.

Dr. Ralph Velazquez ’79, the senior vice president of care management for the OSF Healthcare System in Peoria, Ill., sees that in the medical world. He understands and applauds the way that Monmouth College is responding to those new demands in his profession, as well as others.

“There are always going to be a small number of what I would call ‘linear innovators,’” said Velazquez, who has been a member of the college’s board of trustees since 2001. “But being liberally educated gives our students a head start over typical graduates. … There’s too much overlap between the disciplines to ignore. We have to step back and realize that the critical thinking skills we offer through our liberal arts education are incredibly valuable. When things become interdisciplinary and you add layers of complexity, you can’t afford to be linear and think in a silo.”

According to Velazquez, things have definitely become interdisciplinary in the medical field, where business fundamentals and good science stage a daily tug-of-war.

“In the past, science was the innovator,” said Velazquez. “We were always looking for ‘new and improved,’ at any price. Now, we can’t afford ‘at any price.’ The word we keep hearing over and over is ‘value’ – quality over cost.”

One of Velazquez’s chief duties is assisting with improving clinical performance.

“We are finding new ways to measure our performance,” he said. “We used to measure costs. Now people are asking, ‘Where’s the value?’ We can no longer be expensive and produce poor clinical results. … Our healthcare system is a reflection of our culture. The individual used to be at the top, and we would trade off what is good for the group. Now, we have to answer the question, ‘How well are we caring for our entire population?’”

Velazquez said the expansion of electronic medical records is changing the way healthcare operates, from providing better ways to measure performance to allowing for new delivery models.

“Medicine is becoming a team sport,” said Velazquez. “As doctors, we were trained to be the quarterbacks and make all the calls. Now, we are focusing more on systems of care, such as retail clinics. These would be mini-urgent care offices in Walmart facilities. If it’s at night and you have a child with an earache, you could run them to Walmart, and they could be seen there. Then you could have follow-up with your own physician in two weeks, and the electronic medical record would be there.”

Such changes in the life sciences are regularly occurring, Velazquez said, and the industry is going to continue to grow and provide more opportunities, due to our society’s “aging population.”

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘How do we develop our business models so they have some benefits?’ Scientists can’t isolate from business. Those days are in the past.”

When asked to imagine what would constitute a “perfect team” in the new team sport of medicine, Velazquez replied, “It would be an interdisciplinary team. It’s nursing, pharmacy, physicians, behavioral scientists, dietary and analytic people who measure performance and can create work flows and process maps, using data to identify the gaps.”

He continued, “You also need someone who is willing to lead. The leaders have to put themselves in the patient’s role and understand the emotional part of all of this.”

Part of being a successful leader, said Velazquez, is setting performance expectations high enough so that noticeable improvements are achieved.

“My staff chuckles when I say this, but I tell them, ‘The goal isn’t to be the tallest Shetland pony.’”

Velazquez traces his own leadership roots to Monmouth College, where valuable lessons were learned outside the classroom. While majoring in biology and chemistry Velazquez served as an RA and head resident in Cleland Hall and was a member of the Judicial Board.

“Those experiences gave me a strong background and a sense of stewardship,” he said. “As a head resident, I had a staff, and I was able to develop some of my management skills. My time on the Judicial Board also helped give me a different perspective.”

Velazquez likened his responsibility to his Cleland community – during a time on campus when resources were often scarce – to the task he is assigned at OSF.

“How do we best manage our resources and what do we do to best meet our community’s needs? It’s about being efficient and effective.”

Critical thinking skills are required to answer those questions, and Velazquez said, “At Monmouth, professors help students draw out those skills and hone them. The quality of professors we’re attracting is a big positive. The faculty is committed to teaching, and programs like SOFIA and the Midwest Scholars show the commitment of the institution to its students.”

Fortunately, in this ever-changing world, that’s one thing that has remained the same.