05/01/2014 10:05 am ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

Can Big Data and Broadband Improve Health Care?

Last week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its annual flagship report on IT, the Global Information Technology Report (GITR). This year's report focuses on the risks and rewards of big data. An astounding number of technology transitions in the past 20 years have enabled millions of connections. The World Wide Web was just taking off in 1993. The first smartphone was introduced less than 10 years ago. By 2012, the number of smartphones had grown to one billion. Today, more than 10 billion connected devices are connected, with a staggering 50 billion predicted for 2020. And perhaps most impressive is that the same amount of information created between the dawn of civilization and 2003 is now being created every two days.

As the number of things connected to the global network increases -- from data, voice, video, and smart devices to new breeds of applications -- the opportunities to realize much greater value from networked connections also increase exponentially. Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) removes the technical limit on the number of devices that can connect to the Internet, ultimately allowing for trillions of connections. As the world transitions to the Internet of Everything (IoE) -- where people, processes, data and things are intelligently connected -- we'll be linked in even more ways. Billions and trillions of sensors around the earth and in its atmosphere will send intelligent information back to machines, computers, and people for further evaluation and decision-making. This is truly Big Data.

All this intelligent information gives us the exciting potential to tackle some of the world's biggest social issues. Take the global shortage of specialized pediatric care that prevents many children from receiving care that could improve their health. In a real-life scenario, Cisco's Connected Healthy Children CSR program applies high-definition video conferencing technology to improve pediatric care and expand their reach. Lucile Packard Children's Hospital pioneered the first Cisco HealthPresence pediatric implementation with these outcomes, to name a few:

• A 60% drop in wait times to see a pediatric urologist -- from months to weeks

• 300 pediatric patients now receive care-at-a-distance from pediatric specialists each month

• Connected Healthy Children helps kids in Atlanta, London, Brazil, China, and Kenya

Technology is changing the world around us at a rapid pace and the capabilities of connected devices will continue to advance at break-neck speed. When we harness the ability to turn connections into data, and then into knowledge, we can empower citizens, patients, and professionals to prevent disease, avoid or better manage health crises, and even save lives. And when we close the gap between data growth and data value, by ensuring that the right information is delivered to the right person at the right time, we will change the world.

With a more intimate understanding of our world, we can begin to eradicate some of our most pressing challenges -- even hunger and the availability of drinkable water. Broadband and the intelligent use of big data can also revitalize economic growth. Studies and the GITR show that digitization has a positive, measurable effect on economic growth and job creation by increasing gross domestic product (GPD).

In a previous post, I discussed how broadband access helps break down the barriers to a quality education. This capability dramatically changes how we define schools and increases education opportunities. Better yet, it equips people to find sustainable jobs and lifelong careers allowing them to maximize their contributions to their community and economy.

The benefits IoE delivers to humanity by converging people, process, data, and things are seemingly infinite. Imagine being able to track and understand, and then predict, long-term weather patterns. Farmers will be able to plant crops that have the greatest chance for success. And, once the fields are harvested, intelligent transportation systems will allow for the distribution and delivery of food from places of abundance to places where there is scarcity. Sensors could also be used in a forest to detect a fire, track bird migration, or alert biologist of a harmful bug infestation.

This new, connected world makes broadband access critical for the next round of innovation, economic growth, productivity enhancement, educational advancements, and social change. With broadband access, we can revolutionize global access to education, health care, economic empowerment, and the delivery of critical human needs. Together, with the power of connections, we can have a profound positive impact. I encourage you to read WEF's Global IT Report as well as our chapter 1.2, "The Internet of Everything: How the Network Unleashes the Benefits of Big Data."