CORD 2014 – There’s an App For That (Paperless Edition)

CORD-Anniv-FinalLogoHello CDEM and CORD attendees. Each year for the past few years, a colleague and I have presented some of the most useful apps of the past year. This year, Jason Wagner (@TheTechDoc) and I have been asked to do the same.

Feedback from those previous sessions really focused around providing demonstrations rather than just a list and description of what applications we found useful. Respecting our time constraints, I’ve put some quick demonstrations of useful software below. I will be spending most of my time talking about screencasting software and principles, but I’m happy to discuss any thing (here or at the conference).

Going Paperless

This past year, our first year students were all given iPads. The tradeoff was that they would be given no paper documents. So I challenged myself to also go paperless this past year and here are the applications I found most useful to do so.

What format?

The first choice you need to make when deciding to go paperless is how to store all your digital information. Options include image files such as JPEG, PNG and TIFF. However we want to be able to capitalize on the benefits of having a digital library: that is, we want to be able to search it. The portable document format (PDF) by Adobe hands down is the dominant force in this arena. It is small, searchable and used by nearly all devices, operating systems and applications.

Digitize current paper

Once I made the decision to eliminate paper from my day-to-day life, I had to figure out what to do with the reams of paper I am still constantly handed.

Genius Scan

Genius Scan by Grizzly Labs is an iOS and Android application that acts like a “scanner in your pocket.” Simply take a picture with the application, crop it and the application deskews the image and creates a PDF which you can store on Dropbox, email to someone or send to other applications. It’s a great way to store your conference receipts and handouts as well.

PDFpen Scan+

Scan+ by Smile Software is an iOS application that will not only take pictures of documents and turn them into PDF’s, but it will read the text on that image and convert it into searchable text. Through it’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine, the text on your PDF’s become searchable. Need to email the text of that handout to your friend? Easy peasy.

Document Scanners

If you already have a big stack of papers at home, you’ll need to scan those into your computer. With a flatbed scanner as found on most all-in-one printer-fax-scanner-copiers, you can do one page, take it out, flip it, take it out, put in another page, take it out… cumbersome for a 50 page document. And this doesn’t OCR the text either.

Investing in a good document scanner such as those by Fujitsu (the SnapScan’s are the leader in this field) or one by Canon is crucial. Not only do these accept a stack of documents at one time (no more flipping), it scans both sides and performs optical character recognition. The Fujitsu ix500 will also wirelessly send it to your ipad or laptop.


Remember when Kramer asked Newman to cancel his mail? Years later, the junk mail has just seemed to grow into an endless stream of unwanted paper. PaperKarma is a free app for iOS and Android that promises to put an end to this. Simply take a picture of the unwanted junk mail and the application contacts the sender and requests your name be removed from their mailing list. Sorry, postal employee Newman.

Dealing with journals

Another source of endless paper for physicians is the stacks of journals which collect. Most of us have accepted the fact that you no longer have to keep old issues. There are two great applications to help with this.

Read by Qx MD

Read by QxMD is a personalized journal delivery service. You select the journals you wish to follow and Read logs into your institution’s library proxy server to deliver the articles to you as a PDF. Right now it’s iOS only, but an Android version is promised soon.


Papers by Mektosj is an iOS or Mac app that lets you log in through your library’s proxy server and use a number of search engines (ie, PubMed) to find the articles you’re looking for. These are then downloaded as a PDF to your iPhone or iPad.

Working with PDF’s

I like to write all over my articles, and so while I used to collect and store them on the computer, when it came time to read them; I would print them on paper. Not any more!

If you see a stylus, you DIDN’T blow it

To imitate the process of writing on a PDF with my fingertip (as Steve Jobs would have me do) is clumsy and frustrating. I’ve come to terms with needing one and I have found two that I love: the Wacom Bamboo and the Cosmonaut by Studio Neat.

PDF Annotators

Armed with a stylus in hand, there are two PDF annotation applications which I found struck the best balance between features and simplicity. These best imitated the experience of writing on a journal article while still giving me the ability to do cool things within the application. The first is Notability by Ginger Labs and the other is PDF Expert by Readdle. The reason these rose above the others (I have bought nearly 10 of these types of programs) is the simplicity of the interface. It gets out of your way and lets you focus on reading and writing notes. Both are iOS only right now.

Most of the medical students chose Notability as their note taking app.

Video is not paper

Finally, going digital means you have a device with you most of the time. This let me do things that I couldn’t previously do on paper.

Interactive, collaborative whiteboards

Both Jot by Tabula Rasa and TalkBoard by Citrix allow you to share a whiteboard with another iPad user. Collaboratively you can plan lessons, exams, or even play tic-tac-toe. I have used it to plan my EBM videos with my epidemiologist colleague (while we were both miles apart).

Making iMovies

And now that Apple is giving away iMovie for free, it’s worth taking another look. Not only can you shoot movies on your iOS device, you can edit it, put in titles, transitions, picture-in-picture, voice-over narration and even upload it. I shot, edited and uploaded the movie on document scanners above completely on my iPhone.

This is great for sharing videos of student performance on simulation immediately after it’s done and then have them comment on their performance. Immediate reflection opportunity.


  1. Chaiya Laoteppitaks says:

    It was nice talking to you at CORD in NOLA last spring. I bought a Cosmonaut after our discussion, but I’m not really happy with it for note taking for any prolonged periods of time. Have you tried any active styluses?

    1. rahul says:

      Sorry you didn’t like it. There are a lot of other good styli out there (note I didn’t say “great” – there are no great ones). What exactly didn’t you like about it? We can try to steer toward what you’re looking for.

      1. Chaiya Laoteppitaks says:

        It required too much pressure to register and I felt very clumsy writing with my hand off the screen. I’ve seen some good things about the Wacom Fineline. I’m probably going to give that one a try.

      2. rahul says:

        I hadn’t heard of that one. It looks like the Jot Evernote Stylus. Both are Bluetooth powered and (I think) require apps that support the stylus. I heard bad things about the Jot stylus, though.

        There’s also the Jot Touch which has no Bluetooth but uses some small plastic disc thing to achieve the fine touch. People like that though it does make a click whenever you touch the screen. Some find that annoying.

        Let me know what you think of the Wacom. I’d love a fine touch stylus that works well.

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