Neal PattersonLast Thursday, a great man and health IT visionary was laid to rest. The cofounder of Cerner, Neal Patterson worked every day over the last four decades to improve the delivery of health care. One of his greatest passions was to remove the barriers to health data exchange. And as such, Neal was one of the first and biggest champions of CommonWell Health Alliance.

When Farzad Mostashari, former National Coordinator for Health IT, discussed the subject in May 2012 at a Bipartisan Coalition meeting, noting that the federal government was legally constrained from implementing an official “National Patient Identifier,” he challenged the group with “you need to solve this problem yourselves.” We took that challenge seriously. Neal was one of the first leaders we talked to about creating an alliance like CommonWell. Without hesitation, Neal saw the immediate opportunity for how a vendor-led, not-for-profit alliance would be the best way to address nationwide health data exchange. As he noted at the time of the announcement of CommonWell in March 2013:

“We believe the industry needs to step up to the challenges of interoperability. If we can rise to the challenge as an industry, we have a chance to deliver a golden era of health care. It is a system where consumers not only have a right to their data, but also have the ability to mobilize it in the pursuit of better health. This Alliance is about setting aside the admittedly tough politics of this issue to do what is right for the health care consumer. We at Cerner are proud to play a leadership role in this exciting effort.”

Neal Patterson with group
Our industry and particularly CommonWell Health Alliance was fortunate to have a man like Neal working to solve our greatest challenges. There is still much work to be done to achieve that golden era of health care, but his legacy will live in all those whose lives he touched.

As former U.S. Sen. John Danforth said in his eulogy, “Let’s remember Neal Patterson, the farm boy on a mission, the man with many talents, who used them all and risked them all to fix health care. … Good friends of Neal Patterson, in lieu of flowers, let’s change the world.”

Thank you, Neal, for your leadership, passion and support. We promise to keep working every day to help fix health care and we encourage those reading this blog to do the same. Let’s change the world.

David McCallie, Cerner, and Arien Malec, RelayHealth, are the initial originators and strategists of CommonWell Health Alliance.