Neal Patterson, Billionaire Who Helped Shape Electronic Health Records, Dies At 67 – Forbes
Neal Patterson, who helped shape the computerization of hospital records during 38 years as the chief executive of Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner, died yesterday due to complications of a previously disclosed cancer. He was 67.
Cerner profited in a big way from the U.S. government’s effort to compel hospitals to install electronic medical records systems starting a decade ago. The resulting market expansion pushed the value of Patterson’s stake in Cerner to $1.7 billion as of Friday. For years, Cerner had a reputation as the second choice among big hospitals, after Verona, Wisc.-based Epic Systems, which seemed to get a lot of the prestigious academic medical centers and also made a billionaire of its founder, Judy Faulkner. But in recent years, Patterson had become an advocate for making the different computer systems installed at hospitals communicate with each other. He seemed inspired by his wife’s treatment for breast cancer and, later, his own cancer to change the system.
“It’s time for the patient to be part of the team,” Patterson said, looking thinner than usual, at an appearance at Cerner’s big customer conference last year. “They have to be part of the team. We’re going to make it easier to care for us.”
Farzad Mostashari, chief executive of health tech startup Aledade, tweeted that he was “genuinely sorry” to hear about Patterson’s passing. “His personal experiences with healthcare made him a true advocate for patients’ rights to their own data,” Mostashari said.
Patterson grew up on a wheat farm on the Kansas-Oklahoma border in an area so sparse that he was rushed into first grade so there would be two boys, not just one. His parents hadn’t gone to college; he went to Oklahoma State, and in 1973 took a job as a consultant at Arthur Andersen in Kansas City. At the time, Andersen was a consulting firm as well as an accounting one, and he worked for lots of companies as a computer programmer.
“Basically what we were doing then was companies would buy a computer and they would need software,” Patterson told me for a 2012 cover story. “I designed and developed an unbelievable number of applications early in my life. So we were sitting there saying, ‘The software industry is going to be a major industry.’”
He and two Andersen buddies, Clifford Illig and Paul Gorup, decided to take the certified public accountant tests just to show up Andersen’s accountants. (Only Gorup passed.) While studying at a picnic table in a park, they decided to start a company. In 1979 Patterson, then the breadwinner for a growing family, quit to make good on their idea, calling the company PGI & Associates. They weren’t sure what kind of software they would write. The first job that came in was from a large group practice of pathologists, the doctors who look at tissue samples to try to figure out why you’re sick. Healthcare had chosen them.