Ramblings Technology

The cloud synchronisation

Hello All.

I would like to apologise for the lack of posts, have been on my jollies.

I wanted to outline my plan for the next few weeks. After presenting at the RCGP annual conference in Liverpool, several people keep asking me about eportfolios. What to use, why they should use them, and which one I use.

So, over the next few weeks, I plan on showcasing the various portfolios that I have access to. I hope to highlight the good and the not so good aspects of each and show a variety of other options available for the more creative or adventurous individuals.

The obvious downside to these posts, is that it excludes those who do not want to use an eportfolio. For that reason, in a few weeks, I will be showcasing a few tech ‘hints and tips’, essentially expanding on my talk given at Technobabble.

To start off, I will discuss one of my favourite tools, recently mentioned by RCGP Chair Clare Gerada – Dropbox.

Dropbox is one of many versions of online storage/sync sites. Others such as, icloud or zumodrive to name a few. They work on the basis that your information is synchronised in the ‘cloud’, essentially the internet that you can then access from any internet enabled device. In essence they are an online USB stick. From this point on, I will use Dropbox as the example, as it is the service I have the most experience with.

The benefit of using these services, is that your files are synced with your computer and the cloud at the same time. Any file, i.e. photos, word documents, PDFs, powerpoint etc can be stored. When you then make a change to such files on a computer where you have an integrated Dropbox file like on your home computer, then this change is automatically updated onto all other devices that you access Dropbox from when they are next connected to the internet.

A personal example of this would be when I was writing my essay a few months back for my PG Cert. I started the essay, which I saved in my dropbox file on my home PC. Later that week when I was visiting my folks, I found I had a spare hour and an approaching deadline. I was able to get access to my file through the online portal, download it on the PC I was using and continue where I left off.  After finishing, I uploaded the file back into my online account and then while going home on the train, I was able to access it via my phone and proof-read my essay before handing it in later that week.

The other benefits of these services, are:

  • Most are free, or at least have a set amount of storage you can use for free.
  • Have high levels of security. Dropbox boasts that its online security is equivalent to that used by the USA federal bank.
  • Can allow sharing of folders, so if doing group work, or just wanting to share some of your holiday snaps, this can be done easily.

But how can this specifically be useful for appraisal/ revalidation?

For those that do not want to use eportfolios, this system can be used to store electronic document versions of appraisal forms. These are filed and stored as needed and more importantly accessible wherever you are, so ideal for sessional doctors working in multiple practices, as all you need is an internet connection. The majority of these services will also work on most smartphones or tablets, so you may not even need a separate computer. You can also use these services to store online certificates, or even your CV/ scans of performers letter, CCT etc to give to practices when beginning working with them. The integration with email accounts creates a more streamlined system, so I can email my CV from my account to anyone via my phone.

There are some downsides. Each system will charge if you go over your storage limit. While most a generous enough, if you start storing large photos, presentations or music/video files, you may find yourself needing more.

Also when using the online portal, it is important you remember to upload your file back up. When using your home computer, laptop or own device, the sync is automatic. However is you have downloaded from the online portal, then you will have to upload it back into the cloud. However this is no different to remembering to save your work back on a USB stick when using a different computer.

Finally if the company was to go bust, you may lose your data. While most are very stable companies, and have systems in place to prevent such loss, one method to circumvent this tragedy is to save a copy of the entire Dropbox file every month or so on a separate device as a back-up. This may seem a redundant or unnecessary step, but then when using computers, it is always important to have a back-up.

I highly recommend using cloud syncing services, as they have changed the way I work and made me more efficient.

Next time I hope to showcase some examples of specific eportfolios, till then. See ya.

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