Tools of the Trade


I have had some of you ask me what I use day-to-day to get my job done. In other words, what are the tools of the trade for a psychiatrist as he goes about the business of seeing patients in the clinic and the emergency room?

Although the personal interview and personal attention to patients is my stock-in-trade, I could not survive nowadays without technology.

I use a new twenty-one inch iMac in my home office, the machine I use to do most of these posts. I have two 4 TB hard drives attached to it for extra storage of music, video, and other items, as well as to back up my data. Everything is backed up three times, twice on my desktop on two different drives and once in a cloud service off site.

I have a set of harman-kardon speakers as well as a DVD drive attached to this machine for enjoyment of music, as well as for viewing videos, doing continuing medical education and the like.

There is a copier/scanner, a stand alone printer and a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX 500 on another desk adjacent to my main workspace. A shredder lets me securely get rid of paper that needs to be destroyed. I am transitioning to a completely paperless home office, so the last two remaining piles of charts and supporting documents on the floor will find their way into the ScanSnap and from there to my iMac as soon as time permits. 

My iPhone has been my primary go-to computing device on the road since 2007. When I leave home, the iPhone goes with me. Everywhere. Everything that I do on the iMac syncs wirelessly at home and through the cloud without me thinking about it. When I pick up the phone, I can get right back to a post, a project or anything else I was doing on the main machine at home before I walked out the door. Believe me, I have tried more configurations of more machines than you can shake a stick at, including desktops, laptops, phones and tablets. For me, having one main machine at home and one device to take with me just works better overall. 

Of course, you have seen me post about the setup at work, including the Polycom system, an HP laptop, a Dell desktop, fax machine, printers and the like. This is in my telepsychiatry office and is a static configuration that I leave on and operational all the time. As you know, I am an Apple guy, I use PCs and supporting peripherals to do my day job by default, trying not to whine too much about it! Another Dell desktop lives at the clinic office and is tied into the department network, so I can access all databases and notes for either job from either site. 

So tech is cool, but what about analog tools? Is there still a place for them in the twenty-first century? Of course there is! I also love paper, notebooks, pens and other analog tools almost as much as I do my tech toys. In the home office, I always have a couple of Field Notes notebooks and a large cup full of pens around for jotting down ideas as they come to me, later to be captured in my electronic devices for processing. I have a large whiteboard on an easel right behind my desk, so that I can stand up, think about projects on my feet and jot down outlines or notes as I go. On this board I also note books that I’m reading, places I want to visit, and a working budget for my daughter’s upcoming wedding! There’s something about having a large  white space like that that promotes brainstorming and planning for me, which can be very helpful in a way that a blinking cursor or mouse pointer cannot. 

When interviewing patients, especially new patients I meet for the first time, I’m still a clipboard and template sheet kind of dinosaur. I have an interview template that I’ve used on and off, with multiple modifications, for over twenty-five years. It keeps me on track, helps me to remember overall areas that I want to cover, and is sprinkled with mnemonics for various assessment tools that I might want to use. When I get to the bottom of the stack of papers on that clipboard, I make fifty more copies and keep going. 

I also have Field Notes notebooks in my bag for on the go, plus an assortment of charging cables, batteries, pens, paperwork and other goodies that I grab as I go out the door. I keep this bag stocked all the time, so that I never have to remember whether or not I have a USB cable or a uni ball Vision Elite pen or some other equipment that I might need when I’m away from home. 

Prescription pads, printed schedules, paper projects that need to be top-of-mind and various other stuff take up the remainder of the room in my bag. There is always something to send to someone, process, respond to or to read. 

I haven’t covered absolutely everything, but you get the gist of what I grab and go with almost every day as I go about the business of working, writing, reading, seeing patients and living. 

One day soon, I’ll share with you the applications that I use on my iPhone every day. That little device connects me with the world and keeps me organized and productive in ways that I would never have imagined even five years ago. 

What do you use as you go about your day? Are you a digital or analog person, or do you rely on both to keep you productive? 

I’d love to hear from you. 

16 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade

  1. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many iPads I’ve bought, then traded, given to children or grandchildren, or traded up for something else. I’ve tried to make that device fit into my workflow because it is just so cool, but I just don’t use it enough to justify keeping one. I use a low-end, barebones Kindle now for some reading at home, but the iPhone is still far and away my go-to device.
    And yes, Sydney and the Harbour Bridge have made it to the whiteboard.


  2. Very interesting.
    I won’t unveil what I use in the company I have created and where I’m the one in charge of choosing… and paying. I still hope you’ll carry on talking to me. 😀


  3. Half of my work life is decidedly analog–I pick up the phone (a 2012 Uniden DEC 6.0 portable) early each morning and call Fred, my landscaping buddy. I ask Fred if there’s work today. If so, I polish off a bowl of Cheerios (General Mills Whole Grain), locate and apply my work boots (Wolvenine black-laced), and tromp downstairs to my classic 1997 Kia Sportage ( 5-speed 4×4, purple, with graphics) and motor off to the worksite, where everything strictly Stone-Age. I return home 8-10 hours later tanned, tired, and trouting for a good meal (often something from the Ice Age). On my pre-arranged, non-‘scaping days–the other half of my work life– I trade the work boots for a pair of sneakers (Converse Classic, red or blue), down the Cheerios, and head out to teach First Aid and CPR in a wide variety of workplace settings, near and far. My teaching schedule is maintained by a fascinating bit of software programming called “When to Work” downloaded to my 2007 Compaq 2GB Primitive, and limited only by the amount of time I wish to devote to teaching. I find three classes per week just right, though I’ve occasionally done five or six. After a class, I sanitize the manikins, do the paperwork (still actually on real paper at this point) and head home for another Ice Age repast, though once-in-awhile dinner out with a friend. Then, writing and/or blogging. Then, a glass of red wine, on the porch with some legal tobacco, some reading, and off to bed. A good life, all-in-all, with little time for houscleaning and laundry–the things I hate best!


  4. Paper, of course, and lots of it. I write my interview notes on unlined paper in my truly horrible handwriting. (It used to be nice but years of fast note-taking have taken their toll.)
    My schedule and ANYTHING I need to remember to do goes on the scheduling software of my Samsung Galaxy blah blah blah. (I can’t remember the exact model but it got a very high rating on Consumer Reports, was inexpensive to buy, it greatly impresses the teens I see, so it much be a good smartphone.)

    I have one of those multi-function copier/fax/printer things, one at work and one in my home office. I have a big shredder at home, where I do my report writing.

    I have a 17 1/2 inch Dell laptop, which again, was well reviewed but I can’t remember the model. I lug it back and forth in an enormous black briefcase. On it, I write reports, progress notes, do claims submission, billing, accounting, order replacement supplies, etc.

    As far as UNIQUE tools, I have MANY MANY test kits. Intelligence tests for preschoolers, older kids, and adults. Achievement tests. Tests for memory and learning. The replacement value of these kits as a group, is about $10K.

    I have two white noise machines, one for the hallway between the therapy rooms and the waiting room and one set under the heating vent in my office that leads to the tattoo parlor upstairs. They like their tunes.

    I have a landline phone and WiFi at work, both of which are out of order at the moment. I am hoping that is resolved tomorrow.

    I have TOYS. A doll house, Legos, Toobers & Zots (another construction toy), an indoor bowling set, art materials, puppets, toy trucks. My games have names like, “Dr. Playwell’s Game of Self-Control”.


  5. Perpetual “Moderation” This is worse than Limbo (which the church eliminated a long time ago). Doc, get me outta here, willya?


  6. Whew! Thanks, Doc. Feels better out here. The only thing I’m missing is the rocker, so I’ll take a page from your book and get one. And, I’m going to fade to white for awhile, to make some room for new posters. But I’ll be rockin’ and rootin’ for ya! God bless. Take care. Damn the torpoodles. Shoot low, they’re ridin’ Shetlands(Cosby). Etc. Etc.


  7. Elizabeth,

    Very nice.

    A set of equipment, tools, tests and toys that works well for you in your day-to-day practice.

    That’s all one really needs, no matter the configuration.



  8. 🙂 P.S. I’m so glad to hear that you are scanning that stack of files that were on your floor. They were making my eyes twitch because I couldn’t tell if that stack was going to get smaller or larger.


  9. A lady must keep her mysteries in all circumstances, Greg.
    (Oh, and we bought fresh salmon today. Just for you to know.)


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