Today’s exploding information capacities make it possible to store great amounts of information and retrieve and share it quickly. By permitting rapid communication between data providers and health agencies, technology enables public health workers to promptly address local or national health problems, and to get information out to the public. In clinical care, the computer-based patient record is likely to become a mainstay.
These and other capabilities promise such boons as the extension of medical care to people living in remote places, rapid response to public health emergencies, direct communication to the public about the measures individuals and families can take, and access for health care providers to patients’ medical records from any location when it is needed to deal adequately and promptly with their problems.
For some people, these capabilities raise the specter of lost privacy and the abuse of personal information¾a concern discussed below. Another issue related to information technology is the gulf between technological haves and have-nots, a byproduct of the country’s social, economic and educational disparities. While some people are able to find information and use it to make informed decisions about their health, others lack the equipment and skills to do so. These are issues of access that must be monitored and addressed along with access to care, as information becomes ever more central to health. Certainly, realizing both the NHII and health statistics visions will depend on the continued development and equitable distribution of information technology.