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Cerner chairman and CEO passes away

by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | July 10, 2017
Health IT
Neal Patterson
Cerner chairman and CEO Neal Patterson, 67, died Sunday, July 9, from “unexpected complications that arose after a recent recurrence of previously disclosed cancer,” according to a company statement.

Cerner Co-Founder and Vice Chairman Cliff Illig, who was the company's president and chief operating officer, will become chairman and interim CEO.

“This is a profound loss. Neal and I have been partners and collaborators for nearly 40 years, and friends for longer than that,” Illig said in a company statement. “Neal loved waking up every morning at the intersection of health care and IT. His entrepreneurial passion for using IT as a lever to eliminate error, variance, delay, waste and friction changed our industry."

A succession plan had been in place for some time, and according to the company “the process to select a new CEO is nearing a conclusion.”

The son of Oklahoma tenant farmers, according to the Kansas City Star, he was known as “a believer in hard work” and built Cerner into a leader in the field of electronic health records.

The company, with headquarters in Kansas City, is the largest in the field and employs 24,000 nationwide.

Patterson rose from his humble beginnings to become a billionaire, becoming one of the Forbes 400 in 2012.

“One of Neal’s enduring ambitions for Cerner was to build a visionary company, not just a company with a visionary," Illig noted, adding that, “he has done that. We have what I believe is the best management team in health IT, and we have associates who think as much about the future as they do the present. As a result, Cerner is well-positioned to have a pioneering impact on the provision of health care in the years to come.”

Patterson was also a principal owner of Sporting Kansas City, and condolences have come from those beyond the health care industry as well.

“RIP Neal Patterson — part of our ownership group and a man who helped make our soccer dreams in this city come true,” Sporting Kansas City’s supporter group, The Cauldron, tweeted Sunday morning.

In November, 2016, Patterson made a surprise appearance at Cerner Health Conference in Kansas City. He had taken leave from the company at that time, after receiving a diagnosis of soft-tissue cancer in January of that year.

Addressing a crowd at the conference about his treatment for the disease, “I realized God had a sense of humor,” Patterson said, according to the Star. “He put me in a place undergoing an EHR conversion.”

His off-the-cuff comments turned serious at the conference, when he discussed the challenges and complexity of getting care. “It’s not like you have one doctor, one surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist — it’s a team,” he pointed out, adding that, “it’s time for the patient to be part of the team. They have to be part of the team. We’re going to make it easier to care for us.”

The Cerner chief was “thinner than before his diagnosis,” according to the paper, when he addressed the crowd of about 15,000.

On the future of Cerner, he stressed that he had “a great leadership team” and also that the company was in a central position to advance care.

“The EHR needs to make medicine faster and safer, and there needs to be more participation from the patient,” he noted. “The industry’s not there yet. It’s still lacking and I know I was put in this position to make it better.”

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