Brett Graff’s Mixed Company

Leon Medical Centers' Rene Van Weenen



This is a series of business interviews conducted by Brett Graff, a former U.S. government economist who today reports on money, power and the economic forces affecting real people. Dubbed “The Home Economist,” her work has appeared in The Miami Herald, Glamour, Maxim, Harper’s Bazaar, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents and Cosmopolitan. Online, she’s the financial expert for TheNest.com and writes for Bankrate.com, Yahoo! finance, Fox Business News, MSN.com, ModernMan.com, TheHomeEconomist.com and more. She’s been quoted by Women’s Health, The New York Times, The Fiscal Policy Institute, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Wikipedia and has appeared on CNN, PBS, CNBC and Headline News. She lives in Key Biscayne with her husband and daughters.



At Morton's The Steakhouse, Rene van
Weenen explains that back in Venezuela,
sharing a glass of Johnnie Walker was the
way to seal a solid business contract


René van Weenen is at the forefront of medical care in Miami – only you’ll rarely see him. He’s the director of business applications at Leon Medical Centers, a 37,000-patient, seven-clinic conglomerate, where he oversees the operations keeping the entire business alive and running 24-hours a day.

Leon Medical is so healthy, in fact, that it’s just celebrated an $80 million expansion through which it opened last year two new mega centers. Both located in Miami, each is gleaming with state-of-the art electronic systems and patient services that include door-to-door driving service and medicine delivery. Sounds like it’s designed for Miami’s elite but Leon works exclusively with Medicare and Medicaid patients.

We sat down after work with van Weenen at Morton’s The Steakhouse, where over a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, we talked about the strength of both his business and his health. That’s because in addition to busting through technological boundaries, van Weenen is exploring new medical frontier. He credits a super-charged dose of experimental drugs for getting him to walk out of a wheelchair and leave behind the Multiple Sclerosis he was diagnosed with last April.

Congratulations on everything. If anyone deserves a glass of the world’s most luxurious scotch – Johnnie Walker Blue Label — it’s you.

To me, Johnnie Walker means business. I’m from Venezuela and my father was in the oil industry. I always saw that every single one of his deals was contractually closed with a handshake and a bottle of Johnnie Walker. Back in those days, a handshake was a contract. And Johnnie Walker was the stamp.

Lots of hospitals are facing budget crises. What’s the secret to Leon Medical Centers?

It’s the way the business is modeled. First, you have a centralized location where you’ll find your primary care provider and all your specialists, from your dentist to your podiatrist. And the Leon family, who founded the centers, incorporated the best practice of business, which is excellent service. We treat our patients as ladies and gentlemen. We provide excellent health care and we have people working in the hallways to help direct people who look lost. It’s a for-profit company, we don’t get donations here and tax credits there, so we manage ourselves to be lean.


Over a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Rene van
Weenen explains to financial reporter Brett Graff that
Electronic Health Records are critical to patient care
What do we, as patients, need to know about health care?

The world of health care is adapting to a new era. It’s moving from paper-based systems to being entirely computer based. The government has mandated that by 2013, hospitals must implement and use electronic health records, or as we call them, EHRs. It will be a slow adaption, mainly because it’s expensive and requires intense coordination. But what people should know is that it will improve care and keep costs down.

So basically there’s going to be entire electronic files containing all of our health secrets. What do we need to know?

It’s a good question but there’s nothing to be afraid of. You’ll get better care because providers can better manage and coordinate your treatment. If you have a chronic disease or are taking drugs that shouldn’t interact with other medicines, these systems are smart enough to issue a warning to the technician or nurse.

Electronic health records also make medicine more fiscally sound. In the past, physicians would have to order multiple tests, expensive MRIs and x-rays. Now, the first results are right there – in the record — and that alone helps reduce the costs that are out of control.

Sounds great - what should we as patients be doing to prepare?

There’s nothing you can do yourself aside from picking a hospital or a provider that’s forward-thinking.

When you walk into a health care system you can see right away whether they’re implementing systems. Some organizations take your photo at the entrance. That’s for security purposes and it tells you the organization is capturing that information for the betterment of patients.

Also when researching your provider, don’t be afraid to ask, “Does your organization use electronic health records?” and “Do you have web portals with other organizations so there electronic health exchange?”

Why would I want my hospital to exchange my health records?

Say you want a second opinion or you have to see a specialist. Instead of faxing over your entire history – your labs, your x-rays — now that doctor’s office can have the information more efficiently. And most likely, more accurately.

Listen, there was a time when people (namely my mother) refused to use ATMs. So while one day we might laugh at this question: Is there something scary about each of us having a medical record that can be viewed and altered with the touch of a keyboard?

There’s so much accountability. The infrastructure is designed by security architects to protect information and manage the confidentiality and privacy. And the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability act (you know it as HIPPA) governs it all.

Yes, HIPPA, what are our rights, exactly?

You have the right to know who’s receiving your health care information – hospitals, doctors, clinics. By law, a doctor can’t access your records if they have nothing to do with your care. Your history can be viewed only by the doctor who saw you for a specific encounter. Hospitals — again, by law — have to audit and monitor that. And it’s easy because HIPPA requirements also mandate that the electronic health records have an audit trail, keeping a record of everyone who opened your account.

Also, there are ethics behind electronic health records, which is part of the education I give our employees every Monday. I tell them “You can’t go home after work and discuss with your spouse or your friends patients you’ve worked with.” That’s also true among colleagues. They can’t discuss their patients with another doctor or nurse unless that person has something to do with the patient’s care.

It’s the law, but it’s another reason you have to carefully pick your providers. In addition to skill and ability, you have to consider the doctor’s ethics.

And how can you identify who is ethical?

You can look online at sites such as WebMd.com. And of course, you have your instincts. I have a great physical therapist and I knew upon meeting him that I was being taken care of by the best.

See the profiles for all of the young business leaders featured in Brett Graff's Mixed Company Season 1.

Photography by Paola Padovan

Brett Graff is a former U.S. government economist who today reports on money, power and the economic forces affecting real people. Dubbed “The Home Economist,” her work has appeared in The Miami Herald, Glamour, Maxim, Harper’s Bazaar, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents and Cosmopolitan. Online, she’s the financial expert for TheNest.com and writes for Bankrate.com, Yahoo! finance, Fox Business News, MSN.com, ModernMan.com, TheHomeEconomist.com and more. She lives in Key Biscayne with her husband and daughters.