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Tools to Stay Organized: Using Software to Enhance Efficiency

Animesh (Aashoo) Tandon, MD, MS


The digital age has brought significant changes to physicians’ lives, both personally and professionally. The ways we interact with patients and make clinical decisions have been strongly influenced by the vastly increased amount and availability of information. Many physicians carry a powerful computer in their hands in the form of a smartphone, which allows nearly instant access to medical journals, textbooks, and guidelines.[1,2] The ubiquity of social media has also required adaptations of the way that physicians and patients interact.[3] Smartphones are also showing utility in replacing the pager as the preferred method of communication in healthcare settings.[4,5]

In addition to influencing patient care and communication, technology can also be beneficial in staying organized and efficient; software tools that can be used across devices and platforms are one such example. A great time to experiment with these tools is during fellowship training, so that each individual can find the combination of tools best suited for her or his needs early on. The goal of this article is to outline three categories of software programs that, individually and especially in combination, can yield significant time savings for early career physicians. These programs can especially be beneficial for clinician-scientists involved in research endeavors.

Reference Management Programs: Which Paper Had That Thing I Read That One Time?

One key method of staying organized during research projects is the use of a reference management program. Learning to use a reference management program can increase the speed of all aspects of a research project, including reviewing existing literature, composing institutional review board documents, and drafting and revising abstracts and manuscripts.[6] Some commonly-used reference management programs include: EndNote (Thomson Reuters, Philadelphia, PA, USA), Mendeley (Elsevier Inc., New York, NY, USA), Zotero (Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, Fairfax, VA, USA), and RefWorks (Proquest LLC, Ann Arbor, MI, USA). Most of these programs are available for free for end-users, either because they are open source, or because many universities and medical schools have an institutional license. In addition, many manufacturers and academic libraries provide online or in-person training for these programs, which could increase the efficiency of use.

Key skills to acquire for the use of reference managers include: searching for references; importing references into the database; tagging references for future ease of use; searching for references in your database, especially searches based on keywords; and adding citations to your document (IRB/abstract/manuscript). Each of the above-mentioned reference management programs have their strengths and weaknesses;[7] choosing the program that will work best depends heavily on your preferences. Specifically, three areas in which the programs function differently include:

  1. The workflow for importing documents into the database;

  2. Methods available to query the reference database;

  3. And whether the reference library is available and shareable online and on mobile devices.

Many comparisons of these software offerings exist, both in publications,[7,8] and on the internet.

Developing an efficient method of importing references into a reference manager program will also help address what to do with all the papers that fellows and attending physicians tend to send out over email. Once added to the reference manager software, the papers will always be easily accessible and searchable.

One of the prime uses of a reference management program is inserting citations into text. Most of the reference manager programs have the capability to insert citations into word processing software (such as Microsoft Word (Microsoft, Redmond, WA, USA) using journal-specific styles and with automatically updating numbering. In comparison to manually entering and updating citations, use of a reference management program saves significant amounts of time when documents are written, revised in response to reviewers, and resubmitted to another journal.

To read the full article, please go to the February 2016 Issue of CCT.

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