Forbes Beyond CIO Series: Meg McCarthy, Aetna

August 05, 2013
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Meg McCarthy, EVP of Operations and Technology at Aetna, discusses her career trajectory and  leadership experiences in managing business-IT alignment.

by Peter High, published on


Meg McCarthy has many of the common characteristics of other executives who have been featured in the Beyond CIO series. She has a non-technical graduate degree in the field that she has long been linked to (the degree is a master of public health with a concentration in hospital administration); she spent time as a partner in a major consulting firm, Ernst & Young, and a senior manager at another one, Accenture; she has been an IT executive at multiple major companies, including at CIGNA. Despite having a focus on technology for most of her career, McCarthy has focused on business outcomes first and foremost and technology secondarily. The former defines the ends, and the latter is simply the means.

Soon after McCarthy joined Aetna a decade ago, she climbed the rungs from CIO to head of Business Solutions Delivery, which brought together all IT project management, development, quality engineering, and IT-related business-process reengineering functions, necessary to create, develop and deliver end-to-end business solutions. She then became senior vice president of Innovation, Technology, and Service Operations. Finally, near the end of 2010, McCarthy took on her current role as executive vice president of Operations and Technology. In that role, she continues to have responsibility for clinical innovation, technology and service operations, but she has added responsibility for process and performance improvement, procurement, and real estate services for Aetna.

As McCarthy describes herein, the key has been to continue to push the envelope on value creation, and to demonstrate that value in ways that the rest of the organization can understand. Considering the lofty position she has achieved since beginning her time as CIO, this is a path worth emulating.

(The “Beyond CIO” series kicked off with this article, and the all past interviews in the series can be found here, including interviews with executives at companies such as HP, American Express, Marsh & McLennan, Fifth Third Bank, Symantec, and T.D. Ameritrade, among others. If you are interested in future articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)

Peter High: Meg, you are a business leader with an IT background, and evidence that IT leaders are business leaders.  Can you begin by sharing your perspectives on the role of IT in the insurance industry generally and at Aetna more specifically?

Meg McCarthy: Technology is powering the future of the healthcare and insurance industries.  The role of the consumer, the impact of mobile technology and social media require the industry to constantly reinvent itself.

Aetna is more than a health care company, we are a health care information technology company and we’re constantly investing in technology to revolutionize the health care system. Aetna is focused on bringing innovative new ideas to the market.

Over the past several years, Aetna has made a few key acquisitions in this space. Medicity is the largest provider of health information exchange technology in the country. Aetna’s iTriage application provides consumers with fingertip access to the latest technology and medical information by allowing users to research their symptoms, find a medical provider that best serves their personal needs, and book an appointment – all from their smartphone. iTriage is approaching 10 million downloads already. ActiveHealth’s integrated population health management solutions are designed to help customers improve health outcomes and lower medical costs, through data analytics, evidence-based clinical decision support and targeted health and wellness programs.

Our technology stack, under the Healthagen brand, supports our Accountable Care Solutions strategy by bringing together our integrated suite of payer-neutral solutions and technologies that are designed to improve care quality, control health care costs and enable consumers to better participate with their health care professionals in making choices about their health and their care.

Aetna CarePass features more than 20 market-leading consumer app partners, and enables consumers, with a single secure sign-on, to share information across some of the most popular health and fitness apps, and create a personalized health experience. CarePass also now offers a developer portal, featuring 11 API (application programming interface) partners, that includes access to unique data and services from both Aetna and third-party partners via APIs. Aetna is creating IT platforms and applications for public and private health exchange offerings that will become available later this year…..

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • Do you have a portion of your team that is dedicated to innovation, and how much of your budget is dedicated to innovation projects?
  • You are now Executive Vice President, Innovation, Technology and Service Operations at Aetna, with more than 20,000 employees. In that role, you are responsible for clinical innovation, technology and service operations, process and performance improvement, procurement, and real estate services for Aetna.  What was the logic in this expansion of responsibilities, and how did the company and you elect to align Operations and Technology so closely?
  • When you were CIO, did you target this role as your goal for the next step in your career progression?
  • What was it about the role of CIO that unlocked these other opportunities for you?
  • What advice would you offer for other CIOs who aspire to follow in your footsteps?  What decisions and experiences were critical in allowing you pursue bigger roles and responsibilities?

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To explore the full collection of Beyond CIO Series articles, please click here.

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To explore the recent CIO-plus Series articles, please click here.


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