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AT&T launches health care business

New AT&T ForHealth division will tap into wireless and cloud-based services to help people electronically monitor their own health and let doctors more securely store medical records online.

AT&T is making a new foray into the health care market with a business geared toward improving patient care and trimming medical costs.

Announced today, the new AT&T ForHealth unit will deliver a range of wireless, networked, and cloud-based products to doctors, hospitals, insurers, and pharmaceutical companies. The goal is to push the adoption of new technologies to the industry as the country tries to switch over to electronic and digital health care management.

AT&T said it's looking to expand upon some of its current health care projects, which include medicine bottles that remind people when to take their pills, devices that can monitor a person's heart at home, and audio/video links that allow a doctor and patient to talk without the need for a more expensive office visit.

The ForHealth intiative will drive a variety of services, according to AT&T. The new mHealth Services will focus on helping patients take the right medicine, get home health care, manage weight loss, and monitor wellness programs. New cloud-based image archive programs and security software will let doctors share video, images, and other medical records in a more secure way. AT&T said it will work with a variety of different customers to pilot these new services.

As one specific example, AT&T Labs is working with hospitals and universities to design "smart slippers" that would monitor a patient's walk and signal doctors if the person falls or seems about to fall.

"We believe the health care industry is at a 'tipping point' for fundamental change that will improve patients' care and lead to better health care outcomes," John Stankey, president and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions, said in a statement. "Networking solutions, using cloud-based, mobility, and telepresence technologies, can help the overall industry deliver better care to people while driving costs out of the system."

AT&T already has a strong hook into the U.S. IT health care market, bringing in around $4 billion in sales last year to hospitals, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, suppliers, and doctors. So far in 2010, overall spending on U.S. IT health care services has reached $33.9 billion and is forecast to grow 24 percent over the next four years, according to IDC numbers cited by AT&T.