Health IT

Cerner CEO, a cancer patient, calls for improving EHRs to include patient perspective

The cancer journey gave Patterson a front-row seat to some of the ills of the American healthcare industry and of the EHRs that support care providers and patients.

Cerner Chairman and CEO Neal Patterson surprises the crowd at the 2016 Cerner Healthcare Conference.

Cerner Chairman and CEO Neal Patterson normally keynotes the annual Cerner Health Conference, but this year, he has been on leave for cancer treatment, so he gave up his slot to Geisinger Health System President and CEO Dr. David Feinberg. Patterson still made it, in a surprise appearance after Feinberg spoke.

According to a partial transcript provided by the electronic health records vendor, Patterson said he had received “good news” about the soft-tissue cancer he had been diagnosed with on New Year’s Eve 2015. “I will be back at Cerner in basically my capacity, probably in January.”

“I won’t be traveling as much,” Patterson told the crowd, estimated at 15,000, inside the Sprint Center arena in Kansas City, Missouri.

The cancer journey gave Patterson a front-row seat to some of the ills of the American healthcare industry and of the EHRs that support care providers and patients.

“I made a plan, got a strategy for treatment and then went to execute it. I realized God had a sense of humor: he put me in a place undergoing an EHR conversion,” Patterson said.

“We have incredible trust in our providers – we have to. But ultimately, we are at their mercy. Sometimes the caring is not always there, sometimes it’s been lost,” Patterson continued.

Even the multimillionaire CEO of a major company isn’t immune from such caring shortfalls.

“I remember waiting four hours to get lab results. I asked a lady next to me in the waiting room how long she had been waiting, and her reply was seven hours. Seven hours! There’s no caring in that,” he said.

Patterson, who will be 67 in December, observed first-hand how executing a care plan involved many people. “It’s not like you have one doctor, one surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist – it’s a team,” he said.

“It’s time for the patient to be part of the team. They have to be part of the team. We’re going to make it easier to care for us.”

Patterson, Cliff Illig and Paul Gorup founded Cerner in 1979 — the same year fierce rival Epic Systems began. EHRs have evolved plenty in that time, but they remain suboptimal.

“The EHR needs to make medicine faster and safer, and there needs to be more participation from the patient,” Patterson said. “The industry’s not there yet. It’s still lacking and I know I was put in this position to make it better.”

He then made a promise — albeit a vague one — to the big audience.

“We’re going to increase productivity, but also make being a patient a better experience, make them part of the team and then caring for us [patients] will be easier,” the Cerner founder said.

“We’ve been through the digitization of healthcare. Now we’re going to make being a patient a new experience.”

We anxiously await the details.

Photo: Twitter user Cerner