Neal Patterson, Cerner’s co-founder and CEO, dead at 67

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Neal Patterson, the billionaire chief executive officer and co-founder of Cerner, died Sunday from complications related to cancer. He was 67.

He suffered a “recent recurrence” of the soft-tissue cancer that he disclosed in January 2016, the company said in a statement.

Patterson’s passing produced a flood of condolences from throughout the healthcare information technology industry, lauding his contributions to healthcare and the use of technology to improve care.

Patterson helped start the Kansas City, Mo.-based healthcare information and services company in 1979. Cerner made some of its greatest business gains following the 2009 federal law that required hospitals across the U.S. to digitize patient records. Cerner now describes itself as the world’s largest stand-alone healthcare information technology company, with annual revenue projected to reach $5 billion this year.

This June, the Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to replace its decades-old electronic health record system with a commercial off-the-shelf EHR from Cerner. The Department of Defense is also implementing a Cerner EHR records system.

Co-founder and vice chairman Cliff Illig has been named chairman and interim CEO, the company said. Cerner’s board has had a succession plan in place and the process to select a new CEO is “nearing a conclusion,” according to the company statement.

Patterson led a five-person investment group in its 2006 acquisition of Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City, which was followed by the club’s second championship in 2013.

When Patterson disclosed he had cancer in 2016, he reflected on the “silver lining” of personally experiencing the inner workings of the healthcare industry.

“We have the best leadership team in healthcare IT, and we are well-equipped to continue to manage Cerner with our existing leadership structure while I receive treatment," Patterson said in an email to shareholders, clients and the company.

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives released a statement, lauding 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," said Liz Johnson, CHIME Board chair and CIO of Acute Care Hospitals and Applied Clinical Informatics at Tenet Healthcare in Dallas. " 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, CIO at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, cited Patterson’s passion to improve healthcare. "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," says Probst, who chairs the CHIME Foundation Board.

"On behalf of the entire CHIME family, we are deeply saddened by the loss of Neal Patterson," said Russ Branzell, CEO of CHIME. "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."

Judy Faulkner, CEO and founder of Epic, a competing healthcare software company, weighed in as well on Patterson’s impact on healthcare IT. “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," Faulkner said in a statement. “My deepest condolences go out to Neal’s family, friends and colleagues.”

Others in the industry posted comments on Twitter, expressing their condolences and react to Patterson’s influence in the industry.

“Heartbreaking,” said Karen DeSalvo, who served as the National Coordinator for the Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare IT. “The world has lost one of its giants, with a giant heart. I will miss him.”

"A profound loss,” noted David Muntz, former CIO of Bayler Healthcare System, principal of the StarBridge Advisors consultancy and former Principal Deputy Director of the Office of the National Coordinator on Health Information Technology. “His passion, vision, achievements are remarkable.”

(Bloomberg New contributed to this report.)

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