Readers of the iMedicalApps forums will have seen that Evernote was rated particularly highly by a number of commenters when asked ‘How do you use mobile technology to help with your studies’. As a result of this, I was encouraged to try Evernote out for an extended period and see what impact it could make upon my learning.
I am pleased to say that I have now had enough time to explore Evernote and can now highly recommend it as one of the best note taking apps for medical purposes.
So without further ado…
What is Evernote?
Evernote is an app available on a wide range of devices including Desktop, Web, Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Windows 7 that allows you to ‘Capture anything’. The idea is that you can make and save notes on the go and add a variety of media to each note. Each note is part of a notebook.
There is an excellent search function whereby you can search by keyword, tag or even printed and handwritten text inside images. Evernote is constantly synced and backed up to the cloud. There is a free version with a limited upload capacity and premium version which gives you significantly more upload capacity.
When it comes to creating notes on Evernote, there is a considerable range of options available including text entry, photos, attachments, audio recording, location based information, calendar link, email and tags.
With all these options available to create notes, you should be able to find a method that works for you. Evernote have recently purchased Penultimate, so we expect to see the ability to make notes with a stylus come to Evernote soon.
Tags are one of the more powerful features of Evernote. When you create/edit a note, you can add or remove tags. These are keywords associated with your note which link notes on different subjects (very similar to Twitter Hashtags). An example would be to tag any notes that have instructions on how to carry out physical exams ‘Exam’.
Now while the note for a cardiovascular exam and a knee exam would be located in different notebooks, clicking on the tag ‘Exam’ would show both notes. This is useful as it allows you to build up a very powerful search database which is accessible on the go.
One of the potential weakness’s in Evernotes notetaking abilities is its handling of PDFs. Currently it is not possible to annotate or edit PDFs attached to a particular note. Instead, I recommend using one of our top PDF notetaking apps and then using the ‘share’ button to open in Evernote which will create a new note with the PDF as an attachment.
Another alternative which is quite handy is to use your Evernote email address. When you sign up for an Evernote account you are given an email address which will automatically add anything sent to it. The easiest way to do this is to add this address as a contact in your address book and title it Evernote (see screenshot). Then it is quite simple to forward anything to this address by simply typing ‘Evernote’ into the “To” field.
The free version of Evernote, only allows access to online notebooks which means that you need to have internet connectivity in order to view your notes. Upgrading to the premium version of Evernote removes this limit and allows you to store offline notebooks.
How can I use Evernote in day to day practice?
The genius of Evernote is its integral cloud sync and ability to access notes from anywhere. Evernote has numerous applications for healthcare professionals and is flexible enough to be adapted to everyones individual needs.
What I describe below is the method which I have found to be most successful:
When you first set up Evernote, I would set up a series of Notebooks and Notebook Stacks. A Stack is a fancy way of saying a collection of Notebooks. I have created a Stack for Medicine and a notebook for each subject area within it. I have also created a ‘holding’ notebook where any notes I make throughout the day will be synced.
In daily use, I create a new note everytime I see a patient, have a discussion with one of the doctors, attend a lecture or encounter any new medical situation that I haven’t seen before. I make the title of the note the topic and then make brief notes which are appropriate to the situation. This can include things such as key signs and symptoms or perhaps a clinical pearl of high yield information.
Using the advanced features of Evernote, it is possible to record audio or even take photographs. Obviously, it is important to check hospital policy and obtain consent before taking any photos and be very wary of recording any patient identifiable features/data (more on that below).
As I go through the day, I often end up accumulating anywhere between 5-15 notes. As Evernote stores all this information in the cloud, it automatically downloads itself to my computer when I turn it on. I then go through each note and ‘fill it out’ using information from a wide range of sources including UpToDate, textbooks, lectures and any other sources of information. Building my notes the evening that I first learnt/encountered a particular topic means that I reinforce the learning that I did before.
Finally, I also sort the days notes into their respective Notebooks. The idea being that I can then switch to any particular Notebook and instantly access all the notes I have made on that topic.
Having electronic notes are advantageous over traditional paper notes for a number of reasons:
- They can be searched using the inbuilt search function or robust tag mechanism
- There is no danger of losing them as they are stored offsite in the cloud
- They can be edited retrospectively and constantly updated
- It is easy to include a range of media including photos, mindmaps, videos and more
- They can be easily shared with other people
- Can be integrated with study card apps to turn prose notes into quick flash cards to test oneself
When it comes to revising, it is possible to print/export notebooks or convert them into PDF for reading later.
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