UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt says as many as 100,000 patients with long-term conditions could be set up with telehealth technology from next year in the UK.

Hunt, who was speaking at an Age UK conference, said that seven so-called pathfinder organisations made up of NHS and local authority organisations including clinical commissioning groups are set to agree contracts with industry suppliers for telehealth systems in 2013.

Telehealth services can be fixed or mobile, although many legacy systems tend to be the former. They enable patients to be remotely monitored in their own homes by health professionals. It will be significant whether cellular-based systems manage to capture any of next year’s contract awards.

Among the UK cellular operators, Telefonica O2 has made clear its interest in pursuing the potentially lucrative remote monitoring market.

Hunt also confirmed a previously stated aim of the UK government to have 3 million patients monitored in this way by 2017.

Alongside the government optimism, there has been a strong debate about the relative merits of telehealth and whether it can produce significant cost savings and/or deliver improvements in patient care.

In next year’s first tranche, patients in seven areas including Worcestershire, Yorkshire, Scilly Isles, Kent and Camden in north London will have the opportunity to join telehealth schemes.