Global public health and the information superhighway

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6945.1651 (Published 25 June 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1651
  1. R E LaPorte,
  2. S Akazawa,
  3. P Hellmonds,
  4. E Boosrom,
  5. C Gamboa,
  6. T Gooch,
  7. F Hussain,
  8. I Libman,
  9. E Marler,
  10. K Roko,
  11. F Sauer,
  12. N Tajima

    New technology can vastly improve the accumulation and dissemination of information on public health.1 Vice President Al Gore has written that the United States's current national information policy “resembles the worst aspects of our old agricultural policy, which left grain rotting in thousands of storage files while people were starving. We have warehouses of unused information ‘rotting' whole critical questions are left unanswered and critical problems are left unsolved.”2 This also reflects the status of global public health: we have vast repositories of “warehoused” information on health, nutrition, the environment, demography, and society. Telecommunication systems will give us access to this. Moreover, much of public health and prevention depends on the transfer of information, which telecommunication systems provide very cost effectively.

    From Bitnet to Internet

    Discussions about the applications of networking to health care have typically focused on the potential of networking to transmit data (in particular, images) and to reduce the cost of health care. But the vast potential of telecommunications to prevent disease has gone undiscussed.

    Telecommunication networks began with electronic computer-to-computer correspondence among scientists.3 In the early 1980s networks began forming among academic institutions; one of the first was a system called Bitnet (Because It's Time Network).4 Although it linked institutions that granted degrees, Bitnet was handicapped because government agencies and industry were not represented. During the 1980s Internet evolved.5 Internet represents a “meta-network” - a network of networks. It provided a way of joining many diverse network, including those of governments and very recently industry.

    The number of its users is growing by 12% a month: 10 million people in 91 countries now have access too the system. Internet was initially used for electronic mail and allows “bulk” mailings, with over 2500 electronic newsletters and 4000 discussion groups. Bulletin boards supply information of …

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