Evernote for Oncologist: Connecting the paper and digital realms

ONCNG Oncology, July 2009, Volume 10, Issue 7

Cloud computing, or the storage of data on the Internet, is taking off at a rapid pace, with numerous start-ups and established entities vying for consumer attention and amassing considerable user bases very quickly.

Cloud computing, or the storage of data on the Internet, is taking off at a rapid pace, with numerous start-ups and established entities vying for consumer attention and amassing considerable user bases very quickly. One need only consider services such as Flickr, which as of June 2009 claimed to host over 3.6 billion images, and Google Apps, which reported a cumulative population of 10 million users last September. If you think the market is oversaturated and that you couldn’t possibly use another app, you may change your mind once you discover Evernote, the app that promises to help you “remember everything.” This subscription service, which offers free and premium tiers allows disparate information to be easily captured using your device of choice, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime and from anywhere. So, how can Evernote be useful to you as an oncologist? Read on to discover the myriad ways you can capture information in Evernote, as well as four ways to put this app to good use.

Capturing data: Let us count the ways

Data can be entered into Evernote through a variety of means, and you can tag any item to increase searchability and organize the information by creating folders, categories, or notebooks. Evernote automatically adds meta-information to notes, such as date, time, and geolocation, all of which can serve as another means to search for data within the program. New notes can be created using desktop, Web, and mobile versions of Evernote. While you wouldn’t want to write a paper using the mobile version, it is useful for taking short notes and jotting down thoughts and reminders. Notes can also be e-mailed directly into your account, and if you use Twitter, tweets can be sent to Evernote as well. You can also upload images to the service, and if there is text in the image, Evernote will recognize and index it using OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, even if the text is scribbled (eg, a snapshot of a whiteboard). This allows the image to be found when you do a search on any text string.

You can also clip entire Web pages or take screenshots and copy them into Evernote. So, if you are ever quoted or featured in an online article, for example, you can save it for posterity. Existing documents and other content can be dragged and dropped into the desktop clients for Mac and Windows. You can use this feature to quickly copy over any important forms and documents, which may be especially useful if you practice at multiple locations. You can also upload audio recordings and scanned documents—such as receipts, tags, and brochures—directly to Evernote. Because the platform allows any form of data to be captured and placed into the “cloud,” it effectively bridges the gap between the paper and digital realms.

4 ways to harness the power of Evernote

1. Build a clinical database

Because Evernote does a great job of allowing you to capture snippets of information, one of the most obvious uses is to build a clinical database for yourself, which you can organize by topic. For example, you may consider organizing oncology-related information by tumor type, drug, patient resources, supportive care, or any other category that suits your needs. You may consider populating it with prescribing information for commonly administered drugs, relevant articles and abstracts, useful tables or figures from print or online journals, and audio recordings from conferences, Webinars, or other meetings. If there are handouts or other educational resources you like to distribute to your patients, pull them into Evernote so that they are always accessible and can be printed when needed. It’s important to note that your originals are never altered.

2. Create bibliographic databases

Having been the editor of numerous clinical publications over the years, I have received countless requests from physicians for copies of articles they wrote five, ten, or even twenty or more years ago, and it is not always possible to locate copies. It becomes especially challenging when a publication’s ownership changes or it ceases publishing altogether, and let’s face it, these economic times have resulted in the demise of many notable clinical and nonclinical magazines and journals. To ensure none of your works are lost or forgotten, consider pulling them into Evernote. It is never too late to undertake this task, and if you only have paper copies of articles you wrote many moons ago, you can scan them into the program, where they will be fully searchable. Any digital versions can be added by simply dragging and dropping them into this service. Creating a database of your works ensures you have all the information necessary for the bibliographic portion of your CV. You can also pull any comments or reviews related to your works into Evernote, and if you are working on a book proposal or want to pitch a paper, you can easily access these materials to leverage them with publishers.

Evernote is also useful if you are in the process of working on a book or paper, and you may consider keeping a bibliographic database with as many of the resources that you are referencing as possible. While taking the time to pull this content into Evernote may seem daunting, it will save considerable time in the long run, because all data entered (text, audio, or visual) become searchable, allowing you to focus on writing instead of expending energy to search for data buried in paper piles or that you had seen on the Web somewhere. If you are working on a case report, just be careful not to enter any patient-specific data into Evernote. Although the information is encrypted and there are many security safeguards in place, like optional password protection, Evernote is not HIPAA certified, and a data leak could potentially have repercussions.

3. Capture and store conference information

Tremendous amounts of paper are collected at medical conferences. This not only takes up a lot of space in your suitcase, but sorting through it all when you get home can be challenging and may be put off until the items are so outdated that they simply end up being thrown away. You can use Evernote to lighten your load while keeping important information at your fingertips by taking photos of important posters or products/brochures at the exhibit hall, recording key plenary sessions, and jotting down any conference-related notes directly into Evernote’s text notes. You can also store a copy of your plane ticket, hotel and car service information/confirmation, conference schedule, and information on any restaurant or tourist destination in Evernote, ensuring all information related to the conference and your trip is in one place and easily accessible.

4. Keep important contacts

As a busy oncologist, you are called on by many pharmaceutical reps and deal with numerous other vendors and health care providers on a daily basis. Keeping detailed information on all of your contacts in Evernote ensures this information is accessible from anywhere and on any platform, and inputting the information couldn’t be easier. For instance, if you receive a business card, you no longer have to manually add the information to an address book, tabbing between fields, but can simply add the information to Evernote by scanning or photographing the card. Evernote also allows you to easily store as much supplemental information on each contact as you’d like, such as any relevant photographs, e-mails, notes, and other documentation. So, if a medical device manufacturer with whom you have a relationship sends you a PDF of a brochure for a new bone biopsy device they are marketing, you can add that fi le to the record. Even adding short notes can be useful, because they are searchable. For instance, if you spend a considerable amount of time looking for a lab that can quickly test for a particular mutation or biomarker and finally locate one, you may want to make a note of this in Evernote for future reference.

See Evernote in action

Still unsure about signing up? You can see videos of Evernote in action, read countless blogs, and check out what other physicians are saying about it by following the links in the side panel on the right. Once you start using the service, you will no doubt discover a multitude of other great uses, both personal and professional.