For a long time, the idea was that telehealth needed to compete with face-to-face visits—that somehow virtual vs. in-person was an either/or decision. The truth is, this comparison falls far short of the true power of digital integration. If done strategically, moving to the cloud offers a chance for better care, and more importantly for providers, far more efficient care.

Rather than simply trying to copy existing systems, healthcare providers and technologists should rethink what’s possible when looking at moving care from the clinic to the cloud. And sometimes, that really means leveraging the cloud to provide better, more meaningful care in the clinic. The following are a few examples:

Example 1: Truly leverage the full “care team”, no matter where they (or you) are

In the cloud you’re not alone—other providers, family members, and those who help patients understand their care and make decisions are a mere click away. With telemedicine, true team-based care can be a reality. And while this may not mean that doctors will drop everything to join a virtual visit “stat”, it certainly does open the way for more involvement in the care conversation regardless of busy schedules and geographical separation (even if that is two floors away).

From a rural perspective, or for those with physical and social access challenges, this means that patients can stay local (maintaining revenue for local hospitals) while specialists are brought to them (decreasing travel time for providers). Adult children, probably the greatest untapped resource in the American healthcare system, can easily be a part of the care team whenever the conversation is happening.

Example 2: Allow space (and time) for more meaningful visits

In the cloud, paper doesn’t exist. Patients aren’t asked to wade through 15 wasted pages of intake forms in the waiting room—paper which then needs to be converted into the EMR by admin staff. At this moment, several companies are already offering chat bots that are able to converse with patients to gather and input that same intake data. With this technology, imagine a 15-minute visit that is comprised of 12 minutes of paperwork with just 3 minutes of conversation with the provider can instead transform into a nuanced 15-minute discussion that is focused on diagnosis and the next steps of treatment.

Example 3: Ease language and cultural barriers

The “art of medicine” is a skill that develops over time. Providers must read the patient to figure out the answers to questions like:

Are they depressed?

 Are they hiding their real concerns?

Oftentimes, cultural barriers limit conversation and affect a provider’s ability to gather critical information. They may speak a different language, or have cultural nuances that inhibit the patient/provider relationship. These obstacles are particularly problematic in the brick-and-mortar healthcare environment and can cause logistical headaches. But in the cloud, the provider can be anyone, anywhere. Any language can be spoken, conversations translated instantly for fluid dialogue. Body language can be assessed through artificial intelligence to help providers recognize important subtext. Any number of tools can be added to the virtual clinic that simply don’t scale in the conventional setting.

The takeaway is that improved data, better collaboration, and sophisticated software all strengthen the doctor–patient relationship, producing a better patient experience and a more efficient (and ultimately, more profitable) opportunity for the provider.

It’s time for healthcare providers to look at evolved, broadened telehealth strategies.  Strategies that don’t compete with the past, but that look instead to the future of care. If we want to change the care paradigm, it’s time we stop thinking in either/or terms and think more about what’s possible for the new generation of telehealth.