My most memorable interview in just shy of a decade of journalism involved a frank conversation I had back in 2015 with the founder of one of the largest health-technology companies in America.
That was Neal Patterson, the former CEO of Cerner, who passed away in 2017 from cancer.
Patterson had planned to retire for years, but he stayed on to fix one of the most pervasive problems in health care. He told me he had been inspired by the experiences of his wife Jeanne, who was in treatment for late-stage breast cancer.
Jeanne had to bring printed copies of her medical records to every specialist she saw, because this information couldn't be shared electronically. Jeanne also passed away in 2017, just two months after her husband.
The experience was particularly challenging for both of them, given that Neal had spent his career building an electronic medical record company to solve these very problems. Cerner is now valued at more than $20 billion.
He was a caregiver, as well as an executive, and in that moment Patterson shared feelings of regret. He wished that he could have done more about it. "The paradox is that I am one of the few people that should be able to fix this," he told me. "I'm frustrated that we're not moving faster."
To his credit, Patterson dedicated his remaining years to trying to fix the interoperability problem by starting a group dedicated to improving access to health care data.
But the situation persists. Patients today are still struggling to access their medical records, leading to all kinds of unnecessary medical errors, duplicate tests, and other added costs.