You have a Document Scanner in your Pocket

By Steve McEvoy, Technology Consultant

Many orthodontic practices strive to be paperless, and part of that equation is dealing with paper that comes into your practice from external sources.   Referral slips, insurance cards, drivers licenses, transfer cases, etc. Dealing with these typically involves using a scanner of various types.   In the old days, there were large ‘flat bed’ scanners.  More recently, there are highly effective ‘bread loaf’ and ‘wand’ style scanners that take up considerably less space.

What you might not realize (until now), you are probably carrying around a document scanner in your pocket.   Your smartphone, that Apple or Android phone many people carry typically has an epically good camera in it.

“Ahh, he’s going to tell us to just take pictures with the camera” might be what you’re thinking. You could, but then you have a collection of random JPEG images, probably stuck on your phone.   I’d like to direct you towards a genre of document scanning apps for your phone, ones that do more than take a picture. Microsoft Office Lens, Tiny Scanner and CamScanner are a few to mention. I use CamScanner (because someone recommended it to me) and will describe how it works in this article, but you can look at all your options as they will tend to offer the same features. You can find the CamScanner app as a feature limited free version (or splurge the $2 for the full version) in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Scanning a Document

Once installed, CamScanner (CS) is simple to use. Open the app, click on the Camera icon, take a picture of the paper, ID card, or whatever you need to scan. The magic comes next.

The first super cool part is that CS will deskew the image.   When we take a picture, we are rarely perfectly centered above the document, rather we are probably at some weird angle and even the document we are scanning might be wrinkled or skewed.   CS automatically tries to find the edges of the document in the picture but allows you to quickly tweak its results by dragging the corners of the frames.

Once you tap the check mark icon, it will stretch the image back to its original real life square proportions (deskewing). Depending on your settings, you can also have it adjust the contrast and colors to make it more readable.  I use the default setting that converts the image to a high contrast black and white image, allowing it to make very small file sizes (which are good for saving and transmitting over the internet). You can, of course, change this to save in color.

Once you’ve scanned that item, you can continue and scan more that will be compiled into the same document at the end, page 1, 2, 3 etc. Obviously, you won’t want to scan 15-page documents this way, but a page or two is an ideal use.   This is a feature you can’t do with just taking photos with your camera, CS is building a multi-page document for you.

Getting the PDF from your Phone to your Computer

After you are done scanning, your next concern is how to get the document out of your phone and to where you want it. In a practice, you might want to be able to add it to a patient’s chart. At home (and this is GREAT for using at home) you might want to save receipts for tax purposes, scan those monthly bills or other filings.   CS gives you several methods for moving the document:

  • Cloud based storage like Dropbox and Google Drive
  • Sending the document to yourself as a PDF file attached to an email
  • Text, Bluetooth, and most any other file transfer technique your phone can muster

Sending the document as an email has been the best for me.   I can email it to myself, or to a colleague that is dealing with the patient. Maybe you send them all to Scans@YourPractice.com. When you choose this option, it prompts you for a file name for the PDF document.   You can add a subject line and a blurb of text to your email, but I usually just type in the most minimal info here “Steve McEvoy Signed Consent” or something like that, enough so you have a clue about what the document attached to the email is for.

A copy of the scanned documents is retained on the phone. You’ll need to eventually do some housekeeping to clear them off periodically, but that’s up to your style.

When you open your email, the document will be simply an attachment and you can save it to your computer or server like any other scanned PDF in your practice.

A Note about TWAIN

CS and these apps are not TWAIN compatible (an industry standard for software applications to operate scanners directly), meaning that your management software can’t directly start the scanner and import the result.   The Bread Loaf and Wand Scanners can typically do this (since they are attached to your computer), but the phone is an island so you’ll need to do the save and import steps noted above (which most Practice Management companies also support).

A Note about HIPAA

Keep in mind that if you are using these apps to scan patient records, it likely is PHI (protected health information) as defined by HIPAA.   As such, you’ll need to consider your risks and how you’ll keep that data protected.   It’s really easy to encrypt your smartphone (see this other CTech article on how), and you may want to consider using an email method that is encrypted as well.   If you are just emailing expense receipts and documents to yourself, there is no requirement for this.

So pull that phone out of your pocket, download an app, and get rid of that paper on your desk!

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