Interview | Phil McKoy, CIO, UnitedHealthcare


DTU Times interviewed Phil McKoy, CIO, UnitedHealthcare, who was in DTU for a Leadership Session organized by the Training & Placement Department, DTU, in association with Optum Engage.

What motivated you to venture into technology after getting degrees in Political Science and International Affairs? 

When I was in school, I had no intention of pursuing a career in technology. I wanted to work internationally. I grew up in Jamaica and had a passion for the world and its different cultures. During my Master’s degree, I specialized in International Economics, which was consistent with what I wanted to do in life. To work internationally, I could have joined one of the big firms, but that meant waiting until I was middle-management to get the prolonged expat opportunities I was seeking. Being considerably impatient, I went into consulting, because that is a profession that takes you wherever the work is. I joined a consulting firm, and there I was first exposed to technology. I started coding in C++, writing financial reports through codes, and so consulting became my window to both technology as well as to start working internationally.

What key differences have you felt between the Indian engineers and those in other parts of the world?

There is a term that I have been introduced to during my time in India. It’s ‘Jugaad’. There is a notion of innovation that comes out of necessity in every Indian. The ability to find creative solutions amid a world of ambiguity, irrespective of the path or the surrounding ecosystem, is a trademark of the Indian culture. A sense of figuring it out and the ability to ‘jugaad’ a solution is what sets an Indian engineer apart. There are creative engineers all around the world, but there is something about Indians that enables them to create so much from so little. Despite the hurdles, be it the lack of infrastructure or fewer tools, there exists a profound sense of creativity, innovation and the ability and capability to find a solution in all situations. That is a particularly distinguishable trait that I have seen in all Indian engineers that I have worked with in my career. 

There exists a significant gap between academic coursework and industry demands. How can students, in their personal capacity, bridge this gap?

In order to be a good working professional, you need to be aware of the changes happening around you.

I think one of the gaps is exposure and understanding of real-world experiences. As you go through university, you undergo structured learning and have a structured process where you come out with deep technical knowledge. But opportunities always exist for both the students and the university to get acquainted with more real-world problems. It is important to read more than just the available technical material and to inherently understand trends both in your country and around the globe. When it comes to healthcare, one has unique opportunities here in India. Healthcare is reinventing itself, and there are many challenges to be dealt with, be it the chronic rise in population, diabetes crisis or the rural & urban divide. In order to be a good working professional, you need to be aware of the changes happening around you. This is something you have to seek out, understand, read and participate in. Experiencing the situations personally, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and then working upon improving the technology and combating the inefficiencies in the sector is crucial for growth.

One of the major plagues of the healthcare industry is the cost of the services. How does UHG plan to make healthcare services affordable in developing Asian countries? 

At UHG, we regularly employ AI and Machine Learning to the data to understand any underlying patterns which would allow us to look for treatments ahead of time. 

One of the ways to control cost is by intervening long before diseases become acute. For people with chronic conditions, one can look into the longitudinal data, gather a sense of what is happening beforehand, and then come up with treatment policies that would allow us to counter chronic diseases. Lately, technology has a role to play in the daily management of health conditions, whether it is medication, alternative treatments or keeping track of the symptoms. Thus, by syncing technology, healthcare becomes more affordable and advanced. 

Posted by Parangat Mittal