Do you remember what the internet was like 15-20 years ago? The days of dial-up, when you would turn your modem on and go make a cup of tea while it connected to the internet, making that distinctive noise – the sound of the internet firing up. Oh, and the frustration when someone picked up the phone to make a call and interrupted your AOL chat!
Fast forward to today and we all carry around palm-sized computers capable of connecting to the internet wirelessly, almost anywhere. It is undeniable that we are becoming more and more connected to each other. With Bill Gates’ and Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to make the internet accessible to everyone by 2020, as well as continuing technological advances, we are poised to reap the benefits of connectivity more than ever.
What the expansion of internet access means for you
The most obvious impact of universal internet access is on communication. Through the use of technology like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and more, we are already able to speak face-to-face with loved ones in real time. Universal access also makes business communication faster and more convenient. With further tech advances and wider internet availability, the quality and usability of such services will only improve.
Education is another sector which could be positively impacted by universal internet access. There are already several education programs offering ‘virtual classroom’ settings where students can connect to teachers and peers wirelessly. Imagine the possibilities this holds for remote communities in the developing world – children who previously would not have had the opportunity to attend school at all could have their lives completely changed by a laptop and an internet connection.
Universal internet access is already starting to have a huge effect on many other aspects of our personal and professional lives, but above all, it is set to have a profound impact on health.
Here are 3 ways universal internet access will transform world health:
1. It will enable everyone to access the most up-to-date health information. No more waiting for test results, information and health advice when you can be connected to your health professionals and institutions. Importantly you will have access to not just generic information about a symptom or health condition you might be experiencing, but information personalized to your biological, neurological and epigenetic profile. Increased access to the internet coupled with further advances to technology will also make it possible for health professionals to gain access to the information and education necessary to provide truly personalized health care.1 The real power here is you and your health professional collaboratively having access to personalized health information tailored to you.2 There are already companies, such as ph360, striving to provide this kind of information to every person. With nothing more than a device and an internet connection you can log onto ph360 and get completely personalized information for optimal health. With wider access to internet a service like ph360 can ultimately have far reaching impacts on health the world over.
2. It will create communities of people with common health concerns or interests to form support groups. It’s no secret that we, humans, are pack animals – we need each other to survive. Having healthy familial bonds, strong friendships and a supportive wider community are essential to our overall health and well-being.3 Being a part of a supportive group, especially when dealing with health issues, can go a long way to ease the stress and hardship associated with those health issues. Online support groups specifically can be a fantastic coping tool due to the instant availability and breadth of members involved.4 Internet access is already making it possible for us to connect to loved ones all over the world. Universal internet access will enable people suffering with health issues to connect to others who are dealing with the same difficulties and who understand.
3. It will empower you to take control of your own health. Most importantly, everyone will have, at their fingertips, access to up-to-date tools that can help them to implement personalized health recommendations. Regardless of what aspect of life we are discussing, having someone to motivate and guide you can have a huge impact on your chances of success.5 We already have some access to personalized information but tech advances and better internet access will make it easier than ever before to put those recommendations into practice. One virtual health assistant, ShaeTM, due out late this year, requires a reliable internet connection to be able to provide real time updates on recommendations for foods and lifestyle habits as well as practical advice for implementing those recommendations on a daily basis. Imagine a world where everyone has access to their own Shae, making health and prevention not only a possibility but a reality. In fact, many in the health field say it is possible and you can read more about that here.
Gates and Zuckerberg have the right idea in trying to increase internet access the world over. The implications of greater internet access coupled with technological advances are truly exciting. This is especially true for health. Embracing such advances and finding ways to use them effectively could have a serious and profound impact on world health.
- Fernandez-Luque, L., Karlsen, R. and Vognild, L.K., 2009. Challenges and opportunities of using recommender systems for personalized health education. In MIE, pp. 903-907.
- Glaser, J., Henley, D.E., Downing, G., Brinner, K.M. and Personalized Health Care Workgroup of the American Health Information Community, 2008. Advancing personalized health care through health information technology: an update from the American Health Information Community’s Personalized Health Care Workgroup. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 15(4), pp.391-396.
- Uchino, B.N., Holt-Lunstad, J., Uno, D., Campo, R. and Reblin, M. 2007. The social neuroscience of relationships. Social neuroscience: Integrating biological and psychological explanations of social behavior: 474.
- Eysenbach, G., Powell, J., Englesakis, M., Rizo, C. and Stern, A., 2004. Health related virtual communities and electronic support groups: systematic review of the effects of online peer to peer interactions. Bmj, 328(7449), p.1166.
- Mallett, C.J., 2005. Self-determination theory: A case study of evidence-based coaching. Sport psychologist, 19(4), p.417.