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The longtime health and tech executive has ample experience, but the new job will not be without its challenges.
Brent Shafer is leaving his post as CEO of Philips North America to assume the same title for electronic health records (EHR) giant Cerner. While the former is a far more recognizable name than the latter, Cerner is still a massive, complex, and lucrative tech operation.
Shafer will replace company co-founder Cliff Illig, who has served as CEO since the passing of Neal Patterson in July. In a blog post aimed at the company’s employees Illig wrote that the decision was made based on careful consideration of the founder and former CEO’s thoughts:
“[Patterson] reminded the Board that its objective was not to replace his unique expertise or perspective as founder, but to identify an individual well-suited to lead Cerner and the team in our next phase of growth as a company,” Illig wrote.
In the post, the interim CEO described Shafer as “an approachable leader and effective communicator who has a clear understanding of where health care needs to go.”
The new CEO has experience in the health tech space, having led Philips Home Healthcare Solutions from 2010 to 2014 before taking over the entire North American operation. He also worked for GE Medical beforehand. His career began in the early 1980’s, working in communications and marketing for Intermountain Healthcare. Illig identified Shafer’s familiarity with the health technology space and track record of leading growth for complex and diversified companies as key factors in his hiring.
In a video message to his new employees, Shafer highlighted the need to deliver better outcomes at lower costs in the face of aging populations and rising chronic disease rates.
“We are so well-positioned to deliver on this, and to help our partners and our clients to really improve healthcare, it’s really an exciting time for us,” he said. “I’m here to make a difference, and I think that’s the common bond that ties us together.”
The new role will not be without challenges. Shafer takes over during a unique period for the EHR industry. Adoption has reached near-ubiquity, thanks largely to government pressure, and the major players are locked in constant combat for market share. Those rivalries are increasingly turning litigious. Both Epic and Cerner hold roughly a quarter of the domestic EHR market.
Shafer will also be expected to lead the company’s half of the “largest implementation of a healthcare system EHR ever,” as Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) officials describe it. An enormous contract to modernize the VA’s health records remains to be finalized, more than 8 months after it was originally announced.
It was recently reported that agency concerns about interoperability issues are still holding up the process, which is expected to take a decade at a cost of $10 billion. Full interoperability with the Department of Defense, which has also linked with the EHR provider, is considered vital in the VA’s requirements.
Shafer’s first official day on the job will be February 1st.