The Digital Bulletin Board

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Take That Show on the Road 


Veterinarians are a mobile breed. You may be the house-call small animal vet. Or the farm vet. Or the vet who does relief work at 6 different clinics. Or the zoo vet out in the field all day. Or the hospital owner with two locations. Or the vet student roaming the hallways. Or maybe you like to travel abroad utilizing your rare skills.

 

You get the point. Most of us don’t have a 9-5 desk job, and that’s a good thing!

 

The following is an idea that evolved after years of working in a 40,000 square foot hospital (think IKEA warehouse-big) where my desk was at one end of the building and my critical patients were at another. 

 

Even if you have your own desk close to the action, that traditional piece of cork on the wall has likely collected your favorite references (dose guides, phone numbers, business cards, photos of your dog, freebies from drug reps…) but after years of neglect, looks something like this:

 

That’s so 1999 — cluttered and the opposite of portable. Bad vet!

Enter the Digital Bulletin Board

What Is It?
So simple and elegant, it is a custom bulletin board made digitally so that you always have it with you on your mobile devices or computers. It’s one of my tools that veterinarians are always asking me to share. Technically speaking it is just a photo file (JPG image) that is a collage of your favorite quick references.

 

There are many variations to this — you can create separate digital boards (photo files) for phone numbers, dosing guides, diet references etc. Or you can do what I do: have one large digital board for my favorites. Either way, it is zoomable using the pinch-to-zoom technology on your device and inherently mobile!

 

Find More Techy Tools for Practice »

 

The Tools Needed: 

  • A scanner (if you or your hospital doesn’t have one, your local FedEx Office does)

  • Your favorite quick references

  • A computer with photo software that makes collages (I used to recommend Google’s free Picasa which is what I'll use to explain below, but sadly that is now shut down).

  • A mobile device (tablet or smartphone, no matter the type or brand)

 

What if I’m Not a “Techy”?
Great question. For starters, do not let this stop you from using technology to improve your patient care. Here’s how to “Adopt-a Techy”.

 

Ready to do it? Step-by-step guide below… 

Steps for Building Your Digital Bulletin Board

 

Note: the following steps were written for a PC user (rather than a Mac). This will work just fine using a Mac with some slight modifications. And yes, this will work on any type/brand of mobile device! 

 

Step 1 of 5: Get Your Resources into Digital Form 
Get all of those references off your desk, cork board, etc. You can also look online to find resources (download them as JPG files). Now is also a great time to sort through them, tossing those useless ones (do you really need to keep that fecal scoring system?).

 

You will need to scan all the paper references as JPG files or download them from the internet. VERY IMPORTANT: scan or download them as the highest quality JPG possible (more megapixels) to allow for zooming on your mobile device without loss of detail. Crop them as necessary and gather them into a folder on your computer. 

 

Don’t know how to use a scanner or organize folders? It’s Adopt-a-Techy time.

 

Here’s what my folder looks like:

Step 2 of 5: Get Picasa Up and Running 
Download Picasa—Google’s free photo editing software. If you don’t already use this, give it a try. It’s free and functional, perfect for the home photographer. It is not quite Adobe Photoshop but it’s also not as complicated (a good thing). Get it at www.picasaweb.com.

 

If you already have your own favorite photo-editing program that makes collages, great! You can use the steps below as a guide.

 

Once you get setup in Picasa, import the specific folder containing all of your scanned-in quick references. Here’s a look at how to import the folder:

 

Open Picasa and click on File –> Add Folder

Then find your folder containing the quick references, select it, and click “Scan Always”:

Your screen should now look like this:

OPTIONAL: digitally beautify your references by double clicking on each one and using the editing buttons on the left. First, crop them as necessary. I also recommend experimenting with the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button for easy one-button beautification. 

 

Step 3 of 5: Select Your References in Picasa 
You now have your references looking great and awaiting posting to the bulletin board. 

 

Select all of the items in the folder. Either press CTRL+A to select all or select them one-by-one (hold the CTRL key down on the keyboard as you click each photo). Either way, as you select photos, you will see them building in the lower left tray.

 

Once you have selected all the ones you want it is time to create the collage.

 

Click on “Create” in the menu bar at the top and then select “Picture Collage.” This will grab all the photos in your tray and turn them into a collage.

Step 4 of 5: Build the Bulletin Board 
Now it’s time to play around with the options. 

 

Type of Collage: Click on the down arrow to the right of the white box under settings (top left of screen). There are several different types of collages available in Picasa. I recommend going with the “Mosaic” option for our project since you likely have reference of various sizes. 

 

Grid Spacing and Background: Next increase your “Grid Spacing” by sliding the bar on the upper left quadrant of the screen. This increases the white space between your references. Increase it enough so that you have some reading-friendly room between them. You also have the ability to change the background color of this “white” space or add an image (make the background a picture of traditional cork board if you are so inclined).

 

Page Format (Size): Adjust the “Page Format” drop-down box. I set mine to the setting (Current Display 1920 x 1080) because my particular mix of quick references looked the best on it. Play around but pick a large format to enable high quality zooming later. Do not worry about picking a page format based on your screen type on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Also, don’t worry if some of the references appear tiny. Because of pinch-to-zoom technology, the actual setting doesn’t matter for viewing on your devices.

 

Image Shuffling: Once looking at your collage, if any images are being cut off or you don’t like the layout, you can play around with the “Shuffle Photos” button, manually drag and drop images around the bulletin board, or experiment with the “Page Format” sizes as discussed above. I think the “Shuffle Photo” button works the best, and you can press this as many times as necessary until you’re happy. 

 

When you are content, click “Create Collage” and voilà! 

 

Step 5 of 5: Place the Bulletin Board on Your Devices 
You can do this in 4 easy steps. If you need help with this: Adopt-a-Techy!

 

A. Find the collage you just made by right clicking on the collage image within Picasa and selecting “Locate on Disk.” Picasa saves your collage as a JPG file in an obscure folder (My Pictures –> Picasa –> Collages), which will now open to reveal itself. Now you can copy it to a more accessible area on your computer.

 

B. Move a copy to your phone or tablet. There are many ways to do this: USB cable, email it to yourself, use Bluetooth, or my favorite way: Google Drive (or other cloud storage).
 

C. Make sure you actually save it to your device. What I mean by this is: don’t just open it from your email on your mobile device — actually save it to your device’s hard drive for offline use. This will allow for speed when opening in the future. Again, there are many ways to do this but I recommend using Google Drive and setting it as an “offline document”.

 

D. Set up a shortcut on your device home screen. This allows you to have one button access to your custom Digital Bulletin Board. There are many ways to do this depending on your specific device. Note: this is much easier to do on Android devices vs. Apple (iPhone/iPad) devices — more on this in future posts.

ONE FINAL TIP: if after building your board and viewing on your device, you find that the images are not up to zoom quality you can try three things:

 

1. This is usually resolved by downloading the file to your device. This is especially true if using Google Drive. Set the board as an offline document because otherwise the file is a lower quality imposter. 
2. Print out any digital references that you have downloaded and scan them in using high quality (600+dpi) on your scanner. 
3. Shuffle the images so the collage isn’t shrinking some of your images too much. 

 

And that’s it! Down the road, if you need to add a new quick reference or tweak your bulletin board, just repeat the steps above.

 

Congratulations, you are now always one click away from your custom pinch-to-zoom pocket bulletin board! 

About the Author

Dr. Caleb Frankel is an ER veterinarian, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He currently divides his time between two roles: emergency veterinarian at VSEC, a 70-doctor referral hospital in Greater Philadelphia, PA (USA) and the founder of Instinct Science, a new animal health company helping the world’s state-of-the-art veterinary practices streamline their care through medically-driven invoicing and thoughtful automation. 

 

He served as Director of New Product Development at Brief Media for 4 years where he lead the development and launch of products such as Plumb's Veterinary Drugs and New York Vet. Follow Dr. Frankel on Twitter @VMDtechnology.

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