Cerner Corp. co-founder Neal Patterson had tapped David Feinberg, CEO of Geisinger Health System, to give the keynote speech at this year’s Cerner Health Conference in Kansas City.
Patterson was taking a break from his traditional lead role at company events while he received treatment for a soft-tissue cancer that was diagnosed in January.
But Patterson surprised even the public relations team at Cerner on Wednesday morning, stepping out on stage after Feinberg’s remarks to tell about his own journey through the health care system.
“I realized God had a sense of humor,” Patterson said. “He put me in a place undergoing an EHR conversion.”
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The reference to electronic health records — the core of Cerner’s technology business — quickly transitioned to the people side of health care. Patterson talked about the long waits for lab results that sap the caring from health care.
In his extemporaneous remarks, Patterson said, “It’s not like you have one doctor, one surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist — it’s a team.”
The Cerner chairman and chief executive spoke to about 15,000 conference attendees, saying, “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, thinner than before his diagnosis, said, “I’ve got great news. I’m getting stronger and getting better daily, which is a great place to be.”
He also complimented Cerner executives.
“I’ve got a great leadership team surrounding me, so I can take time to get better,” he said. “I won’t be traveling as much, which means I’ll be at Cerner more, making it better, making us better — for you.”
Patterson took a philosophical view of being a patient inside the industry his company is helping digitize.
“The EHR needs to make medicine faster and safer, and there needs to be more participation from the patient,” he said. “The industry’s not there yet. It’s still lacking and I know I was put in this position to make it better.”
Patterson said he hoped to return to active participation at Cerner in January.