Neal Patterson, Cerner CEO and co-founder, dies from cancer complications

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 - Neal Patterson, CEO and co-founder of Cerner
Neal Patterson, CEO and co-founder of Cerner

The co-founder and CEO of health IT giant Cerner, Neal Patterson, died July 9 at age 67 according to a company statement.

Patterson’s death was due to “unexpected complications” after a recurrence of the soft-tissue cancer he had previously disclosed publicly in January 2016. Company co-founder Cliff Illig will take over as interim CEO and chairman.

“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. “Neal loved waking up every morning at the intersection of healthcare and IT. His entrepreneurial passion for using IT as a lever to eliminate error, variance, delay, waste and friction changed our industry.”

The two founded the company in 1979. When they took it public in 1986, it reported $17 million in revenue. That figure grew to $4.8 billion in 2016, making Cerner one of the dominant firms in health IT with 24,000 employees and the highest market share based on revenue related to electronic health record (EHR) hardware, software and services.

“Neal was a positive role model to me and represented all that is good about Cerner,” Marc Probst, chair of the CHIME Foundation Board and CIO at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, said in a statement. “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.”

Many Kansas City organizations also gave their condolences on Sunday. Cerner is the city’s largest private employer and Patterson’s impact has been felt beyond the business realm, as he was one of five co-owners of Sporting Kansas City, the region’s Major League Soccer franchise.

In its statement, Cerner said its board has a succession plan in place and the process to select a new, permanent CEO “is nearing a conclusion.”

“One of Neal’s enduring ambitions for Cerner was to build a visionary company, not just a company with a visionary,” said Illig. “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 healthcare in the years to come.”