It's not quite Dr. Leonard McCoy's scanner from Star Trek, but the product being developed in a partnership between insurance giant UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) and networking expert Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is definitely pushing the envelope of health care.

The two are setting up a telemedicine network that will include video conferencing and even a remote stethoscope so doctors can listen to patients' hearts. UnitedHealth has already committed "tens of millions of dollars" to the effort.

The technology appears impressive, but it seems to me that this is a lot like the Segway or Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) new operating system: a very cool toy, but a ways away from revolutionizing health care for the average person.

It's not clear exactly how UnitedHealth is going to make money off this initiative. The first mobile units will roll into New Mexico next year in partnership with nonprofit Project Hope, which is presumably picking up some of the costs.

Ultimately though, this may not be a moneymaker, but a ploy to put UnitedHealth on the same side as the government in trying to lower health-care costs. Seeing patients in rural areas who might not get preventive care could save treatment costs that might be higher when the patients get worse.

The health insurance industry -- Humana (NYSE:HUM), Aetna (NYSE:AET), Coventry Health Care (NYSE:CVH), and the like -- desperately need some good publicity so that they don't come across as the money-grubbing corporations in the ongoing health-care debate. UnitedHealth made a similar move in May when it identified $540 billion in health-care cost savings that the government could reap over the next 10 years.

Telemedicine may not revolutionize the world, but just seeming useful may be enough to revive the sick patient.

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