Remembering Cerner CEO Neal Patterson's health IT legacy

The son of Oklahoma farmers founded Cerner alongside Cliff Illig and Paul Gorup and built the company into one of the largest and leading EHR vendors.
By Jessica Davis
01:06 PM
Cerner CEO Neal Patterson

The death of Cerner CEO Neal Patterson due to unexpected complications from soft tissue cancer on Sunday night has colleagues and fellow health IT innovators grieving the loss of who most consider a pioneer in improving healthcare delivery.

As Cerner is the second largest employer in Kansas City with about 12,800 employees in the region, much of the city is also feeling the loss:

The city’s MLS team, Sporting Kansas City, which Patterson co-owned, said the health IT innovator focused on community-driven initiatives, while the Kansas City Manager called Patterson a titan “who helped build this town.”

Patterson co-founded Cerner in 1979 with Cliff Illig and Paul Gorup with the idea of building a software company for the specific needs of healthcare. The founders recognized hospitals operated as silos and spent the last 38 years seeking to improve care quality and data sharing onto a common platform.

Cerner built the platform during the 1980s, organizing health data by patient rather than the doctor, condition or payment method -- the first of many innovations. Patterson, along with Illig and Gorup, have continued to push the envelope with a mission of securely sharing data between disparate systems.

Here is a timeline of a few Cerner milestones under Patterson:

August 4, 2005

Cerner won a 10-year, $51 million Department of Defense contract to supply the laboratory component of the DoD’s Composite Health Care System II, which would deliver the lab results to online medical records of 9 million service members, dependents and retirees.

October 19, 2009

Cerner joined with CDW Healthcare to offer Cerner’s electronic health record system to CDW clients, in an effort to help providers better adopt to healthcare technology. It was Cerner’s first partnership that offered the company’s full suite of ambulatory tools through a national channel partner.

September 10, 2010

Cerner forged partnerships with Ottawa Hospital, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Cornwall Community Hospital to implement an enhanced automated lab system that connects the three laboratories to local hospitals. Using Cerner’s Pathnet Laboratory Information System, operational and managerial sides of the laboratory are automated and connected lab data with the EHR.

October 19, 2012

Omnicell and Cerner partnered to drive interoperability between the firm’s technologies, allowing Omnicell products to connect with any Cerner EHR. The goal was to decrease implementation costs, time and maintenance for shared clients and provide new clinical workflows.

March 4, 2013

Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway and RelayHealth announced a landmark collaboration: CommonWell Health Alliance. The goal? To move the needle on interoperability, enable care integration and data liquidity.

September 22, 2014

Cerner -- along with athenahealth -- pledged to develop apps able to interface with Apple’s HealthKit technology. The companies began working with Apple to develop patient-facing tools to make use of data aggregated from HealthKit.

December 5, 2014

Cerner -- along with Epic, Meditech, Mayo Clinic, Intermountain and Partners Healthcare -- joined HL7’s Argonaut Project. The project is designed to develop and expand the adoption of HL7 standards framework, FHIR.

March 12, 2015

Cerner partnered with digital health platform Validic to enable patients to stream clinical, fitness, wellness and nutritional data into their online portal and EHRs.

April 17, 2015

The health IT giant partnered with Geisinger Health System and xG Health Solutions to enable the use of SMART on FHIR industry standards, by facilitating the use of software applications across open platform EHRs, like Cerner’s Millennium.

July 29, 2015

The DoD awarded Cerner -- along with Leidos and Accenture -- the largest EHR contract at that time, valued at $4.3 billion. Under the contract, the companies will provide DoD with an off-the-shelf EHR, integration activities and deployment across the Military Health System.

February 10, 2016

Cerner launched an open platform dubbed Cerner Open Developer Experience designed to give third-party developers a sandbox to code pluggable EHR applications. The goal: to spur wider collaboration with third-party and client developers for SMART on FHIR applications.

February 29, 2016

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that Cerner -- along with Epic and Meditech -- pledged to use standardized APIs to drive patient access to data and to not block information sharing.

July 13, 2016

In an effort to make its multi-tenant network faster and improve its ability to keep pace with innovations and emerging technology, Cerner tapped BlueCat to automate and speed its cloud-based offerings.

November 15, 2016

Cerner and American Well partnered to connect EHRs to telehealth tools, which enables providers to virtually manage care from remote locations. Further, patients can interact with the software through Cerner’s patient engagement portal, giving access to health data, provider messaging and interaction with care teams.

June 5, 2017

The VA chose Cerner to replace its outdated EHR. The health IT giant will deploy and transition the VA enterprise to Cerner. At the moment, the cost of the new EHR has not been determined.

Patterson spoke frequently on the need for interoperability and for health IT to work for better patient care: “It's time for vendors, even as they continue to compete in the marketplace, to break down their data silos… Our government is not going to deal with this problem."

A mission for which his competitors and colleagues recognized as they took to social media to mourn his loss. Allscripts called Patterson a “giant in our shared mission to improve healthcare,” while Karen De Salvo called the loss “heartbreaking… The world has lost one of its giants, with a giant heart.”

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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