The Internet is much more than a multi-billion dollar industry. The world’s economy now depends on this global “cloud”, which was once little more than a means of connecting different computers over a phone network. Today, the digital age has vast new potential to serve as a force of progress in the global economy, but better, smarter public policies will be needed for that potential to become reality.
The issue of healthcare, in which innovation meets governance, is one of the topics explored in the OECD’s Internet Economy Outlook 2012. Take telehealth, which works by transmitting voice, data, images and information via the Internet.
This time-saving, and potentially life-saving development is important for enhancing healthcare delivery, especially in remote areas with limited access to medical facilities. In Australia, telemedicine is a critical component of the country’s strategic plans for delivering healthcare to the indigenous population. Canada, too, uses telehealth systems to service 21% of its population who live in rural areas.
E-health brings benefits for all countries; for instance, the report encourages governments everywhere to adopt electronic health records for use by doctors and hospitals. But the continuing success of these practices depends on government cooperation and action. Many factors have slowed the expansion of telehealth, such as regulatory barriers, limited reimbursement and failure to inform the public about the benefits of telehealth technologies and services.
Internet Economy Outlook 2012 also looks at the issue of information security and maintaining the reliability of the systems on which we all depend. Wireless connections are a key source of Internet expansion: by December 2011, the estimated number of wireless broadband connections in OECD countries was more than double that of fixed broadband subscriptions. The number of mobile phone subscriptions has tripled in non-OECD countries, too; in fact, many people in poor countries will find it easier to access the Internet using a mobile device than to access clean water. But by bringing in knowledge and connecting the right people, the Internet can indirectly help improve water quality too.
©OECD Observer No 293, Q4 2012
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