Four years ago today was my first day as an intern at Sinai. Yesterday was my last on Sinai’s payroll. I will miss it.
Won’t miss the fake flash mobs of Lifebridge Health, though.more ...
Four years ago today was my first day as an intern at Sinai. Yesterday was my last on Sinai’s payroll. I will miss it.
Won’t miss the fake flash mobs of Lifebridge Health, though.more ...
The new intern class starts in less than a month. It’s easy enough to find advice on how to be well-organized, efficient, and likable. Here are some more tech-oriented tips I wish I knew back when I started.
Get an iPhone. Turn off Photo stream, or download a camera app that doesn’t automatically upload to it, like VSCOcam. When a physical exam finding is rare, stumps you, or is just cool to see, ask the patient about recording it. If you see an interesting or rare radiography image, save it. But please remove all personally identifiable information.
Useful for: appearing smart on rounds, observing disease course, creating informative slides, posters, and written case reports.
Your EMR will have a way to create custom patient lists. Use it. If you are into hematologic malignancies, eosinophilic esophagitis, MODY—or anything, really—keep track of all your patients who have it. If you don’t yet know what it is, keep a list of all the patients you found interesting and try to find a pattern.
Useful for: getting ideas for research and quality improvement projects, figuring out your career path.
I started my internship in 2010 so I can’t believe I’ll write this, but—back in the day before EMRs, we wrote our progress notes and H&Ps by hand. This meant reviewing the med list, vital signs, and labs each morning and writing down only the important stuff; completing and recording just those parts of the physical exam that had to be done; and writing a new assessment and plan each day. Well duh, isn’t that what interns should do?—you might naively ask, until your second or third day on the job when a helpful senior resident shows you how to shave minutes—minutes!—off your note-writing time by using some variant of copying forward, templates, or macros.
These tricks are a mental crutch, and a known cause of documentation errors. They might help your handicapped intern self the first few months on the job, but will then prevent you from thinking about what you are doing and writing. A thoughtful daily review of everyone’s medications and labs will turn into a quick glance over a two-page long list of 10-point single-spaced Courier New. Also, your typing speed will never improve if you only document by clicking.
Useful for: being a good, thoughtful doctor.more ...
In the olden days, back when I could keep all my photos on Facebook, photo management was simple. I didn’t have that many to begin with; the ones I did have were grouped around events—birthdays, vacations, etc—and easily organized into albums. I also didn’t care much for privacy, or backups.
Then two things happened: iPhone 4S, and Dora. Every day became a photo-op, with two cameras in our pockets ready to shoot. The DSLR was still there for big trips and Dora’s modeling yet another outrageously expensive dress. This gave us:
We needed a good method to collect all the photos, organize them for easy access, retrieve them quickly for show-off purposes, and back them up both locally and in the cloud.
Having children usually comes at a point in your life when you care less about money and more about your time—though your progeny will do their best to relinquish you of both. The willpower-depleting effects of a toddler’s tantrum are also well-documented. No surprise then that many of the tools listed below have at some point sponsored a certain Mac-centric podcast that has destroyed many family budgets3. No regrets, though—it all works.
For simplicity’s sake, I like systems with multiple inputs to have one central gathering node. Unfortunately, our only desktop computer is a ridiculously noisy four-year-old Windows PC which sits in a usually occupied guest bedroom. The fans that buzz with the sound of a thousand bumblebees instantly disqualify it from a job as a media server, so I had to use my Macbook Pro. Thanks to Transporter Sync, that was easier than I thought possible for an SSD-only machine.
Transporter, similarly to Dropbox, has an iOS app that automatically uploads new photos to a predetermined folder. Unlike Dropbox, there is no monthly subscription—you pay once for the device, and keep using it as long as the hard drive is working. It can also act as a NAS-lite—having access to the folders kept only on the remote hard drive without them occupying the limited space of an SSD, through a Transporter Library folder.
A folder full of unsorted cryptically named JPEGs and RAWs is less than useful when your parents want to see all the photos from that trip to Naples back in January.
Enter Hazel, the Swiss army knife of file automation. With the rules I’ve set up, it renames photos based on the date and time taken, tags them according to the device that took them, and moves them to the proper Year/Month subfolder. It does the same with our DSLR’s RAW files, placing them in a separate folder. Since the laptop only has 256 Gb, it moves any files older that three months to Transporter Library, the “special” folder kept only on the external hard drive.
We therefore have the last three months’ worth of photos and videos organized by year and month on the laptop, and our entire collection on the external Transporter hard drive.
In theory, we could get to all those photos using the Transporter iOS app, but we’re not a masochists. It’s slow, ugly, and not meant for browsing media.
Thank FSM for Picturelife! It sucks up all our new photos and videos from the Transporter—though we’ve excluded RAW files since we do have to pay for all that data2—presents them in a nice web and mobile app interface whenever we want it, and can pass them on to Facebook, Shutterfly, Flickr, or wherever else we choose. It will also, from time to time, send you a “this day in the past” email, with photos taken years ago. When you have as many unprocessed photos as we do, it is a great discovery mechanism.
Did I mention it can send photos to Shutterfly with just a couple of clicks? I still have flashbacks of the last holiday season, progress bar dragging glacially, the upload finishing just in time for me to miss the shipping deadline. Good times.
Keeping everything on the Transporter and Picturelife as on-site/off-site backups would probably be enough for some. Unfortunately, counting on a VC-backed company that might at any point pull an Everpix to hold all our photos does not seem optimal4.
Which is way Backblaze and SuperDuper! keep copies of all those photos as a part of my general backup system1. If you have a Mac and an extra external hard drive, you should also turn on Time Machine. This way, there are three local copies of all the photos, RAWs, and videos (Transporter, SuperDuper! image, Time Machine), a cloud backup of the same (Backblaze), and an easily-accessible collection of JPGs and videos (Picturelife).
Setting this up is neither cheap nor simple5, but it gives you quick and easy access to all your photos, has several levels of backup, and—most importantly—requires little effort to maintain.
Backblaze will back up the Transporter Library folder, since it doesn’t count as network-attached storage. It doesn’t back up NAS drives. ↩
We keep RAW files in a separate folder, one that’s not on Picturelife’s monitor list ↩
Which is why this post has affiliate links. ↩
That being said, Picturelife is the best of its kind and I strongly recommend it. ↩
I thought about illustrating it with a diagram of a Rube Goldberg machine. ↩
Dozens are dead, and tens of thousands misplaced. Government officials are having nervous breakdowns on live TV, calling the flood “a Biblical catastrophe”—since touting vast water resources as your country’s main asset isn’t a hint as to what big disaster you should prepare for. In case you’re wondering, the Netherlands’ last big flood was in 1953.
If you have a couple of minutes, please use PayPal to donate to firstname.lastname@example.org, the official account of the Serbian diplomatic mission in Brussels. If your bank allows international wire transfers, you can give directly to the Serbian Red Cross. While no one we know is affected, my grandparents had to leave their home twice over the past 50 years because of floods. The support they and their neighbors received from the Red Cross on both occasions was invaluable.
Fun fact: The average Maryland to DC commute is the second longest in the US, right after New York. I should know. Mine will be 90+ minutes, come July 1st. Last week, while I was finishing paperwork at my new employer’s Bethesda offices, the looks people gave me went from incredulity to pity on seeing the Baltimore address on my driver’s license and hearing my explanation that no, since my wife is still at Sinai and usually just walks to work, we won’t move. It’s better for me to take one for the team, I’d say, than have both of us suffer hellish beltway traffic from some midway point.
I could write an essay on how taking one for the team is not entirely true, but the title of this post says “podcast”, and it’s already the second paragraph, so here is my point: My commute will be long. I will need to fill that time with something. Sometimes, that will be strangers talking into my ear about things I don’t understand. Here is my list of strangers, carefully curated after ten years of listening.
Comes out every Monday morning, like clockwork. Great for learning about new hardware, productivity apps, etc. but podcasts are not the best medium for going into the minutia of somebody’s workflow.
Go read this. Having Merlin Mann talk for an hour all by himself would be good enough, but Dan Benjamin—the other half of BTW—is the best podcast host in the business. By using a simple formula, it is easy to mathematically prove that their show is the best podcast ever created.
The first 30 or so minutes are laden with inside jokes and obscure references, but even that is fun after you are several episodes in.
It airs each Saturday, but I like alliteration, and there is nothing else good on Wednesdays. I was in Chicago once while it was being taped, but was too late to get a ticket. Now that Carl Kasell is retiring, it’s unlikely I’ll ever be at a live show. So it goes…
Daring Fireball is a better blog than TTS is a podcast—John Gruber and some of his guests tend to ramble—but you can get good insights on baseball and bourbon.
One word: Siracusa. There are two other co-hosts, whose main job is not to screw up too badly. They do it well.
This is the time for irregular shows, or ones that don’t always have something of interest. In order of preference:
Finishing up our world tour/airplane passenger torture project1 was a trip from Baltimore to Havana, via Cancun. Before you scream Embargo!, neither my wife nor I are American citizens. Our daughter is, but it is fortunately not illegal for US citizens to visit Cuba as long as they don’t spend any money there, at least according to America’s most esteemed journal of law, medicine and gastronomy.
If for whatever reason you want to travel to Cuba from the East coast, you might find our experience helpful.
We took the United flight from Dulles to Cancun, went through Mexican customs and immigration, then took the Cubana flight to Havana after checking in again. Inbound, layover time was more than 3 hours so we could have comfortably checked a bag or two for those large bottles of sunscreen and other essential liquids. The trip back, however, was tight at 1h 55min, so we decided not to risk waisting time at baggage claim, and only brought carry-ons.
In retrospect, it was half of a good move. On the way back, going through customs, immigration, then walking from Cancun’s Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 and checking in for the flight to Dulles is barely manageable in those 90-ish minutes after leaving the plane. However, we could—and should—have checked one of the carry-ons on the inbound flight, as sunscreen, diaper cream, and other toiletries are ridiculously expensive in Havana.
NB: You can easily walk from Cancun’s Terminal 2 Arrivals to Terminal 3 Departures (or 3 -> 2 inbound). There is a shuttle that leaves every 30 minutes and goes Parking -> T1 -> T2 -> T3 -> Parking. The Cancun airport staff told us it would take us 25 minutes to walk from T2 to T3—and that it would take the shuttle at least as much since it makes those other stops—but hey! there’s this van that magically appeared which would drive us to T3 for the low low price of $20. Google maps said it’s less than a kilometer between terminals 2 and 3 so we smiled politely and walked away. It took us—three adults with a carry-on and a large shoulder bag each, plus a toddler in tow—less than 10 minutes. Kudos to United for letting us skip the long check-in line and making it to our flight without issues.
Serbian citizens don’t require a visa, but Dora had only her US passport. We got her a visa in Cancun at check-in for 20 euros.
Cuban entry stamp is bright pink. They asked us before putting one in Dora’s passport, so I can only assume they occasionally get US citizens who’d rather not have their passports stamped for whatever reason (cough, cough). The visa also gets stamped, so there is still proof of entry.
There were no issues going back through Dulles. The customs form asks you which countries you visited on the trip, so we did write we were in Cuba. The immigration officer at Dulles just asked if we were bringing any cigars back with us—of course not, we hadn’t even smoked any while there!—and finished the fingerprinting in record time.
Bring euros, and bring more than you expect. You can convert USD to convertible pesos (CUC) in any exchange office, but with their rates it’s better to change dollars to euros in your own bank, then change euros to CUC once in Cuba. Also, convert some CUC to the peso nacional (CUP), if only for the ridiculously cheap ice cream you can buy on the street.
As for how much to bring, count on at least $20/person/day, not including the room or the 25 CUC exit tax. This would cover lunch, dinner, and a daily trip to the beach or a visit to a museum, monument, etc. Since you cannot use American credit/debit cards anywhere on the island, it pays to take more than you think you would need.
The highlight of the trip! We booked this room on homestay.com, and could not be happier with how it turned out. Centro Habana, the neighborhood it’s in, is definitely not for everyone—very safe, like the rest of Cuba, but also with dog poop and open trash cans everywhere you turn2. Our casa particular was the opposite—clean, well-maintained, gaudy, but cute. Between our large air-conditioned room, the patio, and the open rooftop terrace, we could easily have spent a couple of days just hanging out there chatting with the friendly hosts.
Don’t count on being able to get online at any point. We tried checking in online a day before the trip back, but none of the Havana Vieja hotels we tried had any prepaid cards available. Even if they had, there are no printers to print a boarding pass. Unless you’re staying in a hotel, don’t even think about wi-fi. Just bring a good book or two.
So, if someone’s vacations response email tells you they’re going to Cuba, don’t count on them having any access, no matter what some self-important douche bag tells you.
The only resource we used—and we used it multiple times per day—was the Havana Good Time iPhone app. Some of the information on working hours and prices is slightly outdated, but it is all still relevant, and it comes with an offline map of Havana that is—duh—much easier to carry around than the paper version.
The torture device being our 19-month-old girl—or rather, her vocal cords. ↩
I could say the same about the part of Naples we stayed in this January. In fact, with laundry out in the open and being able to peek into people’s living rooms from ground level it looked very much like Naples, just with wider streets. ↩
It is always a pain clicking on a link to a journal article only to hit a paywall. It’s doubly painful when I know I have institutional access via my library’s proxy server, but have to jump through hoops to get it: go to the library website, log in, copy and paste the article name or PMID into its PubMed search box, and finally download the PDF. Arduous, and—turns out—unnecessary.
Enter Alfred 2 workflows. Here’s a nice article I found on Twitter today. The NEJM link in the top right corner leads to an abstract, but I need a special archive subscription for the full PDF. No matter—I can just highlight the PMID and hit my special Alfred 2 keyboard combo:
And Bam! The ugly but magic button is where it should be. Your institution might have a prettier one.
To make it clear—this simple workflow will do a PubMed search of any selected text anywhere in OS X, all through your institutional proxy server. Finding an interesting reference while reading an article, highlighting its title, and hitting ^⎇⌘P to get to the PDF always feels like magic.more ...
If you have a Google+ account—and you might not be aware that you do—anyone using Gmail can now email you without knowing your address. You can disable this “feature” in the settings, but having it be opt-out shows yet again how little Google cares about privacy.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that—privacy is a relatively modern invention that younger generations might not care for as much as we do. But you should understand the implications of patients and random strangers being able to leave messages in your personal inbox. Suing P.,,,,,,kmmmmmqmmmdoctors is not a modern invention.
This is why I stopped using all Google services—search included—years ago. The company has become so large, with so many users, that it doesn’t need to cater to fringe interests. And for a business with billions of users, doctors are a fringe group—one that hates change-for-change’s-sake, having to [re-learn an interface][ n. Nnjm interface] “just because”, and not being the true customer1.
Also, the number of people at Google who may access my data is huge. FastMail2, my email provider of choice, has fewer than 10 employees. Gmail alone has hundreds. Not that anyone would be interested in me in particular, but if I ever inadvertently send or receive private patient information through my personal account, I’d rather as few people as possible see it.
Email is fine, but why abandon search? First, I have googled enough ailments and substances, common and obscure, that the add network thought I was an elderly female recovering heroin addict with more than one paraphilia. The adds I would get were in that sense appropriate. Second, because of SEO the only valuable page-one results I would get were Wikipedia entries. Everything else was a hodgepodge of useless Livestrong, Huffington post and five-pages-per-500-word-article-AND-behind-a-login-wall Medscape links. Duckduckgo and, yes, Bing at least help with the first problem while not making the second one any worse.
Google calendar is the only service I would consider using. It is fast, reliable, omnipresent and easy to use. There is, however, that constant nagging fear that they will find some way to integrate it with Google+ and yet again sacrifice functionality to force people into its circle3. This is why I use Apple’s iCloud calendar, its horrendous web interface and all.
Also: Reader. I use FeedWrangler now, but man.
Doctors’ concerns aside, Google is all set to become the network TV4 of the internet—large, bland, and largely not relevant to the people who are. It is already two-thirds of the way there.
This one in particular, as it keeps reminding me that doctors are second-class citizens in the tech world. Electronic health records are made with the billing departments in mind—we are there to provide content. Google services are created to sell adds—we are there to provide eyeballs. ↩
Yes, it’s an affiliate link. ↩
Or Microsoft. ↩
Marco Arment discovered an old article in The Atlantic pronouncing the triumph of New-Age medicine. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but the introduction reminded me of what I thought was its biggest fault in reasoning:
… But now many doctors admit that alternative medicine often seems to do a better job of making patients well, and at a much lower cost, than mainstream care—and they’re trying to learn from it.
Alternative medicine does not make patients well. It makes them feel well. The difference is huge.
Here are two graphs from an excellent free-to-access NEJM article that compared four methods of treating asthma: conventional medicine, placebo, sham acupuncture, and doing nothing1. The first one shows how well the patients in each group felt after 2-4 weeks of treatment.
Ah ha! Conventional medicine was no better than sham (sham!) acupuncture, and both beat placebo inhalers. Alternative medicine wins! Or did conventional medicine lose? At the very least it’s a draw.
Not so fast. The second graphs shows the amount of objective improvement, measured in FEV1—the volume of air you exhale during the first second of breathing out:
If this were the common cold, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But asthma is not the common cold. People die of it every day, not because they didn’t feel well—though being unable to breathe is doubtlessly uncomfortable—but because their airways were too tight to get any air out of the lungs.
This is why alternative medicine can be dangerous in the wrong hands, with the wrong patient. Improving quality of life is important, but so is curing disease.
Adding real acupuncture to the interventions would have made the study perfect. Some other time, perhaps. ↩
January 1st seemed to be a good day to install Brett Terpstra’s Slogger. Every night, its army of gnomes will go over my tweets, blog posts, completed to-dos, etc. and record them in a Day One journal entry. Not a replacement for a real journal, true, but better than anything I could do on my own.
It’s a Mac-only app that runs from the command line—not user friendly at all. Even so, the installation instructions are straightforward, with some caveats for the not-too-bright, like me:
Slogger’s default time for sucking in your data is 11:50pm, when my laptop is usually in sleep mode. The scheduler should still be smart enough to start the app on wake-up. Nevertheless, it’s one more reason for me to get a used Mac Mini. In 2015, perhaps.more ...