On Sunday morning, Kansas City, Missouri-based Cerner Corporation announced that Neal Patterson, chairman and CEO, passed away at the age of 67 that morning due to unexpected complications that arose after a recent recurrence of a previously disclosed cancer.
"This is a profound loss. Neal and I have been partners and collaborators for nearly 40 years, and friends for longer than that,” Cliff Illig, Cerner co-founder and vice chairman of the board, now named chairman and interim CEO, said in a prepared 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.”
Cerner set up a tribute page to Patterson on its website where members of the health IT community can share their memories of Patterson and his impact on healthcare.
Patterson cofounded the company in 1979 with colleagues Paul Gorup and Illig. It has since grown into the world’s largest independent health information technology company with $4.8 billion in revenues in 2016 and more than 24,000 associates worldwide, according to Cerner.
In the statement announcing Patterson’s passing, Cerner also announced Illig, who co-founded the company 38 years ago, and served as Patterson’s partner and close advisor, would serve as interim CEO. The company said the Cerner Board of Directors has had a longstanding succession plan in place. “The process to select a new CEO is nearing a conclusion,” the company stated.
“One of Neal’s enduring ambitions for Cerner was to build a visionary company, not just a company with a visionary," Illig said. “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.”
Leaders in the health IT community have responded to the news by issuing statements and posting comments on Twitter, expressing their condolences and commenting on Patterson’s influence on the health IT industry.
Epic, a competing electronic health records (EHR) software company, released a statement from the company’s founder and CEO Judy Faulkner: “My deepest condolences go out to Neal’s family, friends, and colleagues. For nearly four decades, Neal’s vision and spirit helped transform the healthcare landscape in a way that will have a lasting impact for generations to come.”
The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) also released a statement, praising Patterson as a “pioneer in the industry and a major contributor to the healthcare IT community.”
“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,” Liz Johnson, CHIME Board chair and CIO of Acute Care Hospitals and Applied Clinical Informatics at Tenet Healthcare in Dallas, said in a prepared statement. “The work of Neal and Cerner will continue to positively impact healthcare for many generations to come. I had the privilege of knowing Neal for near 20 years. I will miss Neal; he made me laugh and think just a little harder about what could be better in this world.”
Marc Probst, chair of the CHIME Foundation Board and CIO at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, said, “Neal was a positive role model to me and represented all that is good about Cerner. It was his passion to do what is right for healthcare that allowed Cerner to succeed to the levels it has. I will personally miss his energy, his imagination, his ability to move great ideas forward, his honorable character and the honesty I always felt from him. Neal will be missed by many in the industry.”
“On behalf of the entire CHIME family, we are deeply saddened by the loss of Neal Patterson,” Russ Branzell, CEO of CHIME, said. “Neal was a legend in our industry and even more than that, a friend to all. Healthcare is a better and safer industry because of his lifelong commitment to improving care. The Patterson and Cerner family are in our thoughts and prayers.”
On Twitter, Allscripts CEO Paul Black wrote, “Neal Patterson, my friend and mentor, dedicated his life to improving care. His vision, passion and grit created HIT as we know it today.”
Karen DeSalvo, M.D., former Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and National Coordinator for Health IT, commented on Twitter, “Heartbreaking. The world has lost one of its giants, with a giant heart. I will miss him. My condolences to his friends and family.”