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U.K. health service plans 'telehealth' rollout

National Health Service aims to install devices in patients' homes that can collect and transmit their health data.

The U.K.'s National Health Service is planning to deploy so-called "telehealth" systems in homes around the country.

Richard Granger, NHS director general of IT, said Wednesday that this extension of health technology into the home--probably based at first on proprietary systems--would "free things up in terms of time and place" within the NHS.

Speaking to industry figures at a symposium on IT and health care in London, Granger also confirmed that the systems will require additional budgeting beyond the original costs authorized for the NHS' National Programme for IT.

The National Programme for IT is already expected to cost tens of billions of pounds.

Testing the telehealth systems for interoperability with the new national database of patient care records, called the "Spine," would also be expensive, Granger said.

The telehealth devices would probably be targeted at elderly and seriously ill people. It's not clear exactly which features the devices would include, although it's likely they would be equipped with sensors and possibly cameras. Patients might be able to take their own blood pressure and upload the results to the NHS systems, for example.

Granger said that existing security levels in hospitals are on a par with those of the best banks, but uncertainty remains over the security levels that will be supported by telehealth systems.

"Are we going to do that with hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers and voluntary workers who work in people's homes? Maybe, maybe not," Granger told the symposium.

Granger also suggested that the NHS was working with Microsoft to develop standards and user interfaces for telehealth systems.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.