Cerner says it is capitalizing on health care reform

05/24/2013 3:45 PM

05/24/2013 3:46 PM

When the Moore, Okla., tornado caused hospital patients to be evacuated elsewhere, they had a friend in Cerner Corp.

Jeff Townsend, chief of staff of the Kansas City-based health care information technology company, told shareholders at

Cerner’s annual meeting

Friday that digitized health records followed patients to their new locations, providing timely and accurate health care information that previously would have been lost.

Several Cerner executives were clear, though, that it doesn’t take a disaster to show why Cerner and its industry are doing well.

Speaking to about 100 shareholders at the company’s headquarters, co-founder and chief executive Neal Patterson emphasized that the business — located at the intersection of health care and information technology — is doing “hard, complex, ambiguous” work.

It designs software, statistical models and systems that gather population health information, figure out what care works best, healthwise and financially, and predict what will happen.

“We believe in the IT embedded in health care,” Patterson said. “We have to automate more. The systems have to get smarter. The only other option is to ration health care.”

After chief financial officer Marc Naughton tended to routine annual meeting matters, co-founder Cliff Illig focused on the company’s corporate citizenship and economic impact. He described Cerner as the Kansas City area’s second-largest employer, with 8,167 local employees and a local payroll of $650 million. It employs 12,000 worldwide.

It’s fast-growing, too. It added about 3,000 jobs in the last two years. And next month it begins moving IT staff into its third “campus,” a two-tower complex in Wyandotte County that is Cerner’s third physical footprint in the metro area. When completed, the company will have 3.6 million square feet of office space, Illig said.

Shareholders also heard that Cerner employees have contributed about $3 million worth of volunteer work to area nonprofits and the company has granted $19 million through its First Hand Foundation for children’s health projects in 83 countries.

Executive vice president Zane Burke summarized previously reported financial results, noting that Cerner had record bookings — orders for new business — worth $3.1 billion last year.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has been the “full employment act” for health care IT professionals, Burke said. About 500 of Cerner’s hires in the past year were computer engineers.

Chief operating officer Mike Nill defined three priorities for Cerner this year: tailoring and improving the “physician experience” when using Cerner software; providing “revenue cycle solutions” that help providers get “the right reimbursement levels”; and focusing on “increased data intelligence,” including the use of genetic research, to provide an effective “continuum of care.”

The executives repeatedly acknowledged that Cerner’s work is tough for many outside the business to understand.

What they hope investors understand, Townsend said, is that the company is doing “raw, pure innovation” and “inventing the future of health care and the solutions that go with it.”


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