Cerner Corp. co-founder and vice chairman Cliff Illig led the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting Wednesday, taking for the second year in a row the role customarily held by co-founder and chairman Neal Patterson.
Patterson has taken a less public role since being diagnosed with cancer in early 2016, but despite not being present, he loomed large throughout the meeting as other Cerner executives peppered their remarks with some of Patterson’s favorite phrases.
Illig said Patterson had just completed a couple of busy days participating in Cerner strategy meetings and remains very active in Cerner management. But, “I encouraged him to sit this one out,” Illig said.
Remarks by chief financial officer Marc Naughton, president Zane Burke, chief operating officer Mike Nill, and chief of staff Jeff Townsend included quick overviews of previously reported financial results and dives into Cerner’s work at “the intersection of health care and technology.”
Several times during the meeting at Cerner’s world headquarters in North Kansas City, the officers referred to the company’s annual research and development expenditure of $700 million. They said the investment into health care technology development is propelling Cerner to the forefront of efforts to improve the outcomes of health care delivery.
Cerner employs 6,000 computer engineers (among its workforce of 25,000) who are focused on digitizing health care information across the continuum of care. About 3,000 of them moved in February into two new Cerner buildings on its Innovations Campus, under development in south Kansas City.
The company last year also repurchased about $700 million in stock, another way to plow funds into hiring engineering talent and developing state-of-the-art work spaces, rather than paying stockholder dividends.
Nill said Cerner’s strategy is to continue to work toward a strategy of “One record. One plan. One bill,” meaning an integration of patient health care records, on-the-spot care decisions and billing.
“We are always focused on building applications that are very intuitive,” Nill said, with the goal of providing the right information at the right time to make appropriate medical decisions.
The goal, given digitization of health care records across multiple platforms, is to know exactly what care works best in each situation, to predict problems before they become acute, and to improve overall population health by helping caregivers and individuals take better care of themselves. In the long run, that should reduce time spent in acute-care situations and control cost increases.
Nill said the collection of massive amounts of data, augmented by analytics and artificial intelligence, has the power to change the delivery of health care while still respecting patient privacy.
In routine meeting business, the company reappointed directors Julie Gerberding, Neal Patterson and William Zollars to three-year terms. The agenda also noted that John Danforth, who retired from the board after decades of service, was made director emeritus and will continue advising the company on government and public affairs.
Cerner executives said the company’s headquarters will remain in North Kansas City but that the development of other campuses is crucial to its growth, providing job-specific offices that help recruit engineering and business talent worldwide. They noted an insufficient supply of computer and engineering graduates to fill the need.
Illig ended the meeting with a recruiting plea to shareholders, asking them to send any “young, aspiring” people they know to Cerner for consideration.