The NII initiative focuses on enhancing the basic infrastructure for telecommunications and computer technology in all sectors of the U.S. economy. It encompasses economic and regulatory policies to encourage private investment in the NII as well as federal grant funding. From the outset, health has been identified as one of the key sectors that can benefit from better information technology (1). Thus far, however, NII grants related to health have primarily supported applications of high performance computing and telemedicine to the delivery of medical care to individuals. Relatively little attention has been paid, by either the private or the public sector, to applications that would support population health (2). As the information infrastructure is built throughout the United States, it is important to ensure that both medical care and public health requirements are addressed. Information technology offers an opportunity to link the health of populations and the medical treatment of individuals more closely, to the benefit of both.
The PHS is committed to stimulating more vigorous participation of the public health community in the NII initiative, and to bringing those involved in the NII and population health together to articulate and realize a collective vision for harnessing the NII in support of the health of the public. Four components of the PHS -- the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) -- jointly sponsored an invitational conference on this topic on April 19, 1995 and a smaller strategy session on the following day. A first draft of this paper was distributed to those attending the conference to provide a common basis for discussing the NII and public health. This version outlines the issues that were brought up and discussed at the conference and incorporates the strategic plan that was developed on April 20. It is being disseminated widely, both to audiences seeking to learn more about the potential of the NII to improve the health of the public, and to those who can help make these potential applications a reality.