Advancements in video conferencing technology have helped fuel the birth of telehealth - where doctors use the internet to reach patients they can't see in person, according to the New York Times.
The growth of the industry has been fueled by increased acceptance of the practice by insurance companies, which are now marketing web conferencing software to many employers. Although many medical associations say it will never fully replace personal visits, it can be useful where there are few doctors available.
"Telemedicine can improve access to care in remote sites and rural areas," says Dr. Lori J. Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "But not all visits will take place between a patient and their primary-care doctor."
The Times says states such as California are planning to introduce telemedicine into prison environments, where the state spends more than $40 per inmate every day for health care. New Jersey has used web conferencing technology to slash those costs by two-thirds.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that many Americans - up to one-fifth of the population - live in areas where there are very few primary care doctors. Datamonitor says that revenues from telehealth have also skyrocketed, growing 10 percent annually to more than $500 million in North America this year.