Healthy Optimism, July 12 2017

Neal Patterson

We at Health:Further, like the rest of the healthcare community, were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Neal Patterson, CEO of Cerner, due to unexpected complications from cancer.

To be clear, I didn’t know Patterson. We have a lot of great contacts at Cerner. What I do know from those contacts is that it was a very tough loss for the team there.

Something that struck me in reading the coverage of Patterson’s passing was this comment from Co-Founder and Vice Chairman of the Board (and now chairman and interim CEO) Cliff Illig:

“One of Neal’s enduring ambitions for Cerner was to build a visionary company, not just a company with a visionary”

That is an impressive, and incredibly difficult thing to do. We see so many companies with visionary founders that can’t maintain their edge after loss of that original leader. Time will tell at Cerner, but we can hope that Illig’s comments are born out and the culture built largely by Patterson allows for many years of continued innovation.

But of course, the revenue and corporate success is just business. More important is the “why” behind the culture. In Patterson’s case, it was a life of integrity and incredibly hard work, pushing to create a great result for everything he was involved in and caring for the people involved. And that’s why the people at Cerner are so deeply affected by the loss of their leader.

On top of that is the effect Patterson’s passing will have on his personal community. I won’t even begin to speak to that other than to repeat our condolences.

Also, cancer sucks.

We look at the numbers and are encouraged to see the significant drop in cancer deaths over the past 25 years or so. And that’s a very good thing. But that still leaves the horror of losing individual people to cancer. Generic stats mean nothing when it happens to someone we know. I’ve dealt with it, I’m watching close friends currently fighting it, and I think that holds true for just about all of us.

Here is yet another reminder that saying we’re going to “cure cancer” is a good thing to say but not really a real thing. Mostly because it’s not one disease. It’s a huge group of diverse diseases with different etiologies that affect individuals differently depending on genetics, environment and lifestyle. We have made incredible, wonderful progress in understanding how these diseases work. And we have a very long way to go.

So here’s to the memory of Neal Patterson. Here’s encouragement to anyone dealing with any type of cancer, keep fighting. And here’s a huge shout out to the researchers and clinicians working so hard on the almost unbelievable task of understanding, preventing and treating the horror of cancer.

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