Normally when we think of investing in health care, medical device makers, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurers come to mind. However, buying Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) stock could actually be a smart health care play as well. Here's why.

Mobile medical
What does a mobile communications giant have in common with health care? More than you might think -- especially in the growing area of telemedicine.

Telemedicine basically involves using medical information gathered at one location and sending this information electronically to another location to improve a patient's health. The opportunity for this technology to make a difference in improving health care is tremendous. Deloitte projects that $400 billion each year could be saved by using technology to address medical needs at home.

It's in the area of telemedicine that Qualcomm's technology shines. The company formed a business unit called Qualcomm Life in late 2011. Qualcomm Life focuses on remote health management using its 2net cloud platform. 2net enables integration of medical devices at a patient's home with a database hosted in the cloud. Other applications can access this data to provide a wide range of services to improve health care.

Plenty of companies have jumped on board Qualcomm's platform for telemedicine. At least 22 medical applications now use 2net. Others are on the way.

For example, WebMD (NASDAQ:WBMD) is working to create a new offering to provide customers with "seamlessly connected personal wireless health data." WebMD plans to use 2net to integrate data captured via medical devices into its network of mobile applications and websites.

Over half of all consumers who take action to improve their health do so with information obtained through WebMD. The WebMD deal underscored Qualcomm's leadership role in the telecommunications arena.

Qualcomm isn't leaving all the fun to other companies, though. In May, Qualcomm Life acquired HealthyCircles, which provides a software-as-a-service tool that supports transition of patients from hospital to home. Such transitions will continue to rise in importance as Accountable Care Organizations, or ACOs, gain prominence.

Looking ahead
The downside to buying Qualcomm stock as a health care investment for now is that we really don't know how much revenue the company is making from the sector. Qualcomm made more than $19 billion in fiscal 2012, but the company doesn't break out the amount of revenue attributable to specific industries.Whatever that amount is, though, expect it to grow considerably.

InMedica, a research firm specializing in medical electronics, thinks that the telemedicine market could expand nearly 500% within the next four years. For its part, Qualcomm says that its future success depends in part on focusing on digital health opportunities.

There are many other great investment choices that are pure plays in the health care arena. However, for investors looking to capitalize on the "next big thing" for health care, my view is to take a hard look at buying Qualcomm stock. I suspect doing so will be a very smart move.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.