July 11, 2017

Cerner CEO Neal Patterson dies at 67 from cancer complications

Daily Briefing

Neal Patterson, CEO and co-founder of Cerner, died Sunday at age 67 from cancer-related complications.

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Patterson recently experienced a "recurrence" of the soft-tissue cancer that he had disclosed in January 2016, according to a company statement.

Cerner co-founder and Vice Chair of the Board Cliff Illig has been named chair and interim CEO while the board selects a new CEO. The company said the board has a "longstanding succession plan in place" and that the process of selecting a permanent CEO is "nearing a conclusion."

Patterson's health IT legacy

Patterson and Illig launched the Kansas City-based health IT company in 1979 and together built it into one of the largest health IT companies in the world. According to Bloomberg, the company flourished following the 2009 economic stimulus package, which required some U.S. providers to adopt certified electronic health records.

Cerner last month was selected by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to replace the department's VistA EHR system and increase interoperability with the Department of Defense's EHR system, which Cerner also was selected to upgrade.

Cerner currently has 12,800 U.S.-based employees and about 24,000 worldwide, according to the Kansas City Star. Annual revenue for Cerner is projected to reach $5 billion this year, Bloomberg reports.

Industry members remember Patterson

Illig in a statement said, "This is a profound loss." He added, "Neal loved waking up every morning at the intersection of health care and IT."

Mark Holland (D), mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, said, "Neal Patterson was a pioneer, a visionary and a great civic-minded individual." He continued, "We will miss him tremendously in Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas. ... My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Russ Branzell, CEO of the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME), in a statement called Patterson a "legend in our industry."

Liz Johnson, CHIME board chair and CIO of Acute Care Hospitals and Applied Clinical Informatics at Tenet Healthcare in Dallas, said, "Neal was an inspirational visionary who has left an indelible mark on industry through his tireless pursuit of better information at the point of care for patients in every setting," adding, "The work of Neal and Cerner will continue to positively impact health care for many generations to come."

Several other industry stakeholders took to Twitter to remember Patterson

Paul Black, CEO and Director of EHR vendor AllScripts, said Patterson "dedicated his life to improving care. His vision, passion & grit created HIT as we know it today."

Former National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo called Patterson's passing "heartbreaking," adding, "The world has lost one of its giants, with a giant heart."

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Chief Innovation Officer Rasu Shrestha said Patterson will be missed (Cummings et al., Kansas City Star, 7/9; Mehrota, Bloomberg, 7/9; Sweeney, FierceHealthcare, 7/10).

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