Cloud Computing: Ways for Physicians to use Dropbox

by Paul Sufka on August 3, 2011

People say the quantity of medical information doubles every 5 years.

Somehow each of us has to figure out how we organize all of this information that is presented to us.

Every great physician mentor I’ve known has been able to quickly pull excellent journal articles from their personal “archive” of literature that they’ve gathered over the years. Sometimes, these key articles directly changed the management of a patient for the better.

As any physician can attest, keeping up with current medical literature is no small feat. Journals seem to arrive in the mail on an almost continuous basis, and even after learning to quickly discard the “throw away” journals, they quickly pile up in offices, floors, bathrooms, etc.

Finding a way to organize, store, and quickly access the important articles is a critical skill for current physicians.

Enter the world of mobile technology. Only a few years ago, many medical residents were starting to carry around a palm pilot with references for drug prescribing and various medical equations.

Today, access to information on the internet is nearly ubiquitous. Almost everyone has a smart phone in their pocket that can access the internet at any time (either through high-speed 3G/4G networks or local Wi-Fi). We can hardly remember the days we actually had to go in front of a computer to Google something (much less try to remember what life was like before Google existed).  The iPad was released in April 2010 (only about 15 months ago as of this writing) and has only further advanced how we access information.

Despite being constantly connected to the internet, only recently has “Cloud Computing” become popular, which is giving us new ways to store and access our own personal files from just about any location on earth.

My personal cloud storage service of choice is Dropbox, which I have been using since September 2008 (when beta invites first started becoming available to the public). With Dropbox, I’m able to keep files synced in a folder on Mac at home with my smartphone and iPad, as well as able to access those files from any computer I happen to be using with an internet connection. There are also ways built in to easily share your files with others.

Ways that I use Dropbox include:

  • Storing and accessing journal articles from multiple locations
  • Working on and accessing powerpoint/keynote presentations from multiple locations
  • Working on papers from multiple locations
  • Storing copies of a number of documents, including my CV, for access from any location
  • Storing the multiple login names and passwords for various things using a secure password manager (Personally I use KeePass on my Mac and Android phone; many people seem to prefer 1Password)

***I don’t advocate storing any confidential patient information on Dropbox. Although I think the risk of confidential patient information being lost is likely low, the potential consequences of any breach strongly outweighs any current benefits.***

As always, starting out with a new system for organization is a lot of work and takes a little discipline, but in the end, really makes it worth it when you’re able to find the article you want within seconds. Here’s how I do it:

Step 1: Organize the articles into folders based on diseases as below:

Step 2: Do something about the stack of articles already piled on your floor!

I find the easiest way to find electronic copies of articles is by using the Pubmed Single Citation Matcher:

From here, you usually only need to enter the year, volume, and page number to find the article you are looking for:

And this is what comes up:

Now simply download the pdf, then put it in the appropriate folder. Dropbox will sync it and take care of the rest. If accessing these articles requires you to be at your local hospital or university library to access the journals, just login to your Dropbox account on the web and upload the files from that computer.

Step 3:  Access your articles:

If you’ve made it with me this far, accessing your files on your desktop/laptop should be fairly straightforward.

  • For mobile devices (iPhone/iPad and Android), the Dropbox app has a built in pdf reader that works extremely well.
  • For accessing pdf files on the iPad, I personally use GoodReader. This app gives you the option of downloading a copy of your Dropbox folders, so you have access to them at times when Wi-Fi is not available. It also allows you to annotate your pdfs (highlighting, etc.) for later reference.

Any other ways that you are using cloud computing as a physician? Please, let me know in the comments!

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