The Veterinarian and the Cloud (Cloud Vet 1)
A Little Background Welcome to the two-part series on how to enhance your rock-star animal healing powers using cloud storage programs.
In terms of technology, cloud storage (specifically Google Drive), is the most important tool I use in practice. Chew on that before moving on.
Google Drive is handy for every role, from the veterinarian down to the client service rep, and for every type of veterinary practice, no matter the species you treat or the size of your clinic.
To be fair, you could easily substitute your favorite cloud storage service (e.g. Dropbox) for Google Drive in the following articles. With that said, I’ve put myself out there as your personal techy guinea pig and outlined my findings below.
In Part 1 (below), I’ll introduce you to the cloud and walk you through the various cloud storage programs available for use in your day-to-day life as a veterinary professional.
In Part 2, I’ll detail how you can leverage Google Drive (or your favorite cloud storage program) to become a SuperHealing TechyVet.
What is Cloud Storage? For the non-techies among us, let us clear up what “the cloud” really means.
Cloud is just a fancy way of saying that instead of storing files and folders on your computer hard drive, you store them on another hard drive (called a server) far, far away and access them via high-speed internet.
Cloud is a buzzword these days because of two developments:
Widely available high-speed internet
Mobile devices (tablets/smartphones) that access that speedy internet
I hear you saying it, non-techy: “So what?”
The benefit of cloud storage is that you can access your files on multiple devices (your computer, phone, smartphone, work computer, a coffee shop computer) seamlessly so that they are always available and backed up.
But wait. What about the original copy on my computer? You still have the original copy on your hard drive and maintain offline access in a way that is no different from the regular files and folders you use on your computer now.
And there’s more: when you change any file or add a new file, no matter where you do it from, the changes are synced up on all other devices!
Got it? Check. Like it? Check.
The Contenders There are many companies now offering cloud storage apps and all have FREE options that should be just fine for your uses. I’ve detailed the ones most techies consider the top programs below.
Each program offers free storage that comes in the 2 to 15 GB (gigabyte) range. For comparison, your typical computer hard drive holds between 125GB and 1000GB (AKA a terabyte). But most of that space is for things you don’t need to share on multiple devices for veterinary purposes.
If you choose Google Drive, the free amount offered (15GB) should be plenty (think 500,000+ documents)! If you still need more space (I can’t be the only one who has 23GB in photos of my cat chasing a ladybug), they all offer paid plans to increase storage.
One last tip: if you are a veterinary student or veterinary nursing student or have a “.edu” email address, make sure you look into student rates as many services offer you extra storage for free.
Ready? Here we go.
<Editorial note: The prices for the services were current at the time of press but continue to change. Google Drive recently dramatically reduced prices (only $1.99 for 100mb) and Bitcasa dramatically increased prices (from $99 per year for unlimited storage to $999 per year).>
Drive is as secure as it gets (make sure you set up 2-step verification to optimize security), available on virtually all devices including Apple products, and gives you the most free space out there (15GB, shared with your Gmail and Google+).
Not too shabby.
It also automatically keeps old versions of your documents, lets you view files of any type both on their native desktop programs and within a web browser, and best of all, it harnesses the power of Google search capabilities.
To put a cherry on top, you have access to Google Drive apps (explained in Part 2). It’s unbeatable in my eyes.
This is the original online document storage service and it too is great. It’s probably the simplest to use and it has very robust revision histories (which famously saved my wife when she lost a 200 page document shortly before it was due).
But it is more expensive than Google Drive (comes with only 2GB free at first) and, I would argue, is less searchable. Add in the fact that Google Drive is integrated with Gmail (the email service most people already use), and Dropbox falls short for me.
Side note: do you prefer Google Drive but have some Dropbox holdouts in your life that you share documents with? You can integrate Dropbox (and others) into Google Drive via Google Drive apps such as CloudHQ.
Microsoft’s newly updated cloud storage system, SkyDrive, is fully integrated with Windows 8 and Office 2013 and is probably the most aesthetically pleasing of the services. It is also the cheapest when you start paying for storage.
But when it comes to functionality, it falls short of Google Drive and Dropbox. The fact that you cannot search (at all!) on the SkyDrive Android or iOS apps leaves this service falling very short. I still use it for certain files in my personal life because of their cost-effective paid plans.
Even you techies may not know about this gem-to-be.
This company is on a mission to kill the external hard drive. They are the first to offer up unlimited (yes, I said it), storage in the cloud. You get 10GB free but for $99/year you can essentially get unlimited storage for your computer and mobile devices.
With all that said, they are new to the game and many report that the mobile apps still need some fine-tuning.
For now, this is a great option as your automatic backup system.
<Editor's note: this product no longer exists.>
Apple iCloud Offering 5GB of free space, iCloud is designed to seamlessly sync with your Apple products (iPhone/iPads). It also works on the PC but it is not as versatile.
Further, it has limitations on the types of files it can handle and doesn’t support easy sharing/collaboration.
Overall this product is best suited for heavy Apple users who never touch PC/Android products and care most about music and photos being in sync.
For me, it’s just too limited for most professional uses.
Evernote No cloud storage post would be complete without mentioning Evernote, the epic program that has allowed me to take my life fully digital.
Evernote, combined with Google Drive, is paws-down my favorite app on all of my devices, including my laptop. If you don’t know it, get to know it.
Although it stores documents just like the aforementioned services, and technically is cloud storage, it is so much more and should not be compared.
You could easily use Evernote as your system for the details outlined in Part 2 of this article. But since I generally believe in using the right tool for the job and many of you are just dipping your toes into the tech pond, I am going to recommend Google Drive at first.
Want to saddle up the Evernote elephant? Check out our 3-part series on using Evernote in Veterinary Medicine!
Ready to Choose? Guess what, you lucky duck: you technically don’t have to!
That’s right, it is OK to take advantage of the free storage buckets offered by each company in order to keep your costs down. You can then store certain types of files with certain programs.
Currently, I keep all of my family photos on SkyDrive, use Dropbox for sharing work projects, and favor Google Drive for all things doctoring. Evernote is for everything else in my life (stay tuned for that future Evernote post!). I’m also testing out Bitcasa as a replacement for SkyDrive and an automatic backup solution.
But with all of that said, Google Drive gets my recommendation for turning you into a SuperHealing TechyVet.
I’m going to assume you already use Gmail, search with Google, and/or use a host of their other services. If this is the case, you really cannot say no to Google Drive, no matter the type of device you prefer.
Not convinced? Play around and decide for yourself!
OK, now that we covered the WHAT of cloud storage, are you ready for the HOW?
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.