Global Health Leader Dr. Margaret-Mary Wilson and Localized Solutions to Healthcare

16 May 2023 – Government and the private sector need to work together to provide proper healthcare in any country, whether rich or poor, the chief medical officer of the largest US healthcare company told Makati Business Club members.

Dr. Margaret-Mary Wilson, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President of UnitedHealth Group, said this was borne by her experience in Nigeria, the UK, and the US, where poverty, regulatory and process constraints, and inequities, respectively, resulted in patients not getting the care they need. Together, they can provide targeted, or “local”, solutions, rather than ineffective one-size-fits-all strategies.

“Everyone deserves access to safe, equitable, and affordable healthcare,” Dr. Wilson said. “The solution to better healthcare access must be local. No one can build a healthcare ecosystem for anyone else. Localized approaches make the ground that drives better access to care.”

The Philippines passed its Universal Healthcare Law (RA 11223) in 2019 but funding and coverage remain low. Over the past 15 years, private sector groups including Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Ayala Corp., the Unilab Group, and JG Summit Holdings Inc. have built new hospital, clinic, and pharmacy networks across the country, while private HMOs have operated for decades. Government and the private sector collaboration deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Wilson was the first speaker in MBC’s Global Leaders series, which aims to help Philippine business leaders think, act, and compete more globally through in-depth engagements with industry leaders worldwide to create more and better jobs and improve Filipino lives. The series is sponsored by SGV.

Dr. Wilson believes the keys to management and leadership are the “leadership muscles” of authenticity and comfort with ambiguity, a “dynamic, agile, and flexible” culture, and the initiative that comes with not fearing failure.

“You need to create an environment of psychological safety where people are not afraid to fail. That’s how you keep your team comfortable and innovative through difficult times,” she said. “We all need to build models that are dynamic, agile, and flexible. We have to move away from thinking of industries through the lens of size and magnitude. If you focus on these, you become rigid.”

Part of having an innovative and dynamic culture is diversity.

“The whole point of diversity is embracing different ideas and approaching problems together,” Dr. Wilson said. “Innovation is thwarted when one doesn’t consider diversity.”

To promote diversity, leaders, especially those from minority or marginalized groups, need to be more visible, she said.

“I’m a woman, an African immigrant, and a lesbian — and I’m a leader,” Dr. Wilson said. “The journey has not been without bigotry. What I have learned and benefitted from is the power of visibility and authenticity. It’s important for me as a leader for my teams, partners, and clients to see me and all that I represent. People cannot become what they do not see.”

Dr. Wilson said AI and other technology can help fast-track bureaucratic processes that slow down and limit access to healthcare, but they won’t replace humans, despite shortages in healthcare workers around the world.

“10 years from now, we will not recognize healthcare. More and more, we have seen technology being leveraged to conveniently bring healthcare to the consumer,” she said. “Globally, we are facing a healthcare workforce shortage. We need to recognize that professional talent cannot be replaced by technology.”

UnitedHealth is the biggest healthcare company in the U.S. and the only healthcare company among the Top 10 U.S. Companies by sales. Its Optum unit has a BPO operation in Manila and is a member of MBC.


To learn more about MBC’s past engagements with global leaders, you can visit MBC’s Global Ideas Page.