WiFi your Camera: How to Save Time & Money taking Photo Records

If we think about the process of taking digital photos in the modern Practice, we waste a lot of time and effort transferring the photos from the camera to the PC.

Existing Process
I call it the Records 14-Step:

  1. Take the digital photos
  2. Turn off the camera
  3. Open the camera door (don’t break it)
  4. Remove the Card
  5. Walk to the PC with the card reader
  6. Insert the card into the reader (Whoops, it was backwards, try again)
  7. Open your image management program
  8. Upload the photos into your program
  9. Delete the photos from the card
  10. Remove the card
  11. Walk back to the camera
  12. Insert the card (whoops, it was upside down, try again)
  13. Close the fiddly camera door
  14. Turn the camera back on

Whew – that’s a lot of steps for something that could be simpler.

Something Better
What if there was a way to just take the photo, and have it magically fly over to the computer without having to do anything.    I call it the Records 2-Step:

  1. Take Photos
  2. Open Image management software on the PC and upload your photos.

The advantages would be many:

  • Less wear and tear on the camera body, which should make it last longer
  • Less wear and tear on the card reader – since you don’t need one
  • Less staff time wasted walking around the office
  • No need to have more than one memory card
  • Ability to keep taking pictures with the camera. There would never be any downtime while photos are being uploaded
  • Ability to upload photos from any PC in the office, not just the one with the card reader
  • Ability to upload photos from a Thin Client session if you use a Terminal Server

Eye-Fi
So, now that I have you really wanting this for your office, how do you do it?

For several years now there has been a product called the Eye-Fi SD memory card.  The card works with almost any digital camera that accepts SD memory cards.  In the small format of a SD card, they have managed to squeeze in a WiFi transmitter and 4GB of onboard memory.

Eye-fi_card_connect_2
Eye-fi_insides
Eye-fi_card_in_camera

The card will automatically transmit all new digital photos over your in-office WiFi zone to a designated PC.  The PC needs to run a little software widget to work with your Eye-Fi card (the Eye-Fi Helper app).  You setup the software by simply telling it what folder you want to save the new photos in, either on that PC, or more preferably somewhere on your Server so you can access the new photos from any PC on your network.

A few relevant facts and features:

  • The card uses the power of your camera.  This is important to note since if you turn your camera off ‘immediately’ after you take a photo, you haven’t given it time to transfer the photo out.  It only takes about 10 seconds to do this, so it’s not a big deal.
  • The PC needs to be on to ‘receive’ the photo via the software widget.
  • You need to have a WiFi zone with good signal strength where you plan to use the camera.  The Eye-Fi card doesn’t have a giant high power WiFi transmitter, and it’s wrapped up in the body of your camera.  We usually try to put a WiFi access point somewhere in the close vicinity of where you will use the camera most.  The card supports the latest WiFi security standards and will work with any WiFi zone.
  • If you use the camera where there is no WiFi signal (or it’s too weak), the 4GB memory portion of the card will still just work like a normal SD card.  You could go back to using the card in the old 14 step process if needed temporarily.  Or, if you just walk the camera body back into the area of stronger WiFi signal, it will automatically sense it and ‘catch up’ transferring all the photos it hasn’t been able to .  This is a great feature, and can allow you to even use the camera at a satellite office (without WiFi) and then just return the camera to the main office and turn it on, then it will transfer all the records that are queued up automatically.  Simple!
  • The card has a feature called ‘endless memory’.  Essentially, you can tell it to automatically purge old photos from the card to keep at least 2GB of memory available in case you need it.  It will only delete a photo that it knows has been successfully uploaded.   This means you’ll never have to delete a photo manually or format the card again.

Sign Me Up!
This sounds pretty good so far, but you’re wondering how psycho expensive this must be.  Well, it’s about $50.  Yes, fifty.  Pretty cheap for so much technology.  Of course, Eye-Fi has several models that add all sorts of features targeted at home, consumers and professionals, but my experience has been the most basic model, the Eye-Fi Connect X2 4GB, has all the features a Dental Practice might need.

Eye-Fi cards are available from most online technology stores (like NewEgg.com , in stores near you like Best Buy, or directly from www.eye.fi (note the funny URL, its not a .com)

Consider This
Before you jump in, there are some caveats you should consider:

  • You should verify your exact camera is on the supported camera list BEFORE you buy one.  They have an extensive online list here.
  • You CANNOT use it with a Compact Flash (CF) convertor in a camera that only has a CF memory slot.  Sorry, we’ve tried this and it was a miserable failure.  There is no CF version available.  Eye-Fi seems to be focused on the most popular memory format only.
  • You need to ensure that you have a good WiFi signal strength where you intend to use it.  Mediocre has proven to not be good enough for reliable operation.  You can try it out, but if the signal isn’t strong enough, be prepared to add another Wireless Access Point (which is pretty simple).
  • If the experiment is a failure for whatever reason, you’ve still got a 4GB memory card for $50.  Not a big financial risk.

You need to develop a protocol to know which series of photos in the folder are for which patient.  The photos arrive in the folder sequentially based on the time they were taken.  I have seen several approaches to this:

  • Make the first photo in the series a picture of the patients name or ID on the treatment chart (or post it note)
  • Since they are time stamped, all the photos are in a cluster by time.  Many offices can just tell that ‘All the photos taken around 9:15am were the 9am patient, the 10:40am photos are the 10:30am patient, etc’
  • Process each batch of photos before the next batch is taken

This is something to deal with, but honestly hasn’t been a big deal at any office I have seen try.

Conclusion
Go ahead and give it a try, it may improve your Practice efficiency and save you some $$$ in the process.
You can learn more about the card at www.eye.fi

Since your existing IT person didn’t suggest this to you, perhaps you would consider working with the people that did. If you need a little help setting this up with your Practice, this is what MME Consulting does. We can help you implement this quickly and efficiently. Just give us a call at 866-419-1102 or check us out online at www.mmeconsulting.com.

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2 thoughts on “WiFi your Camera: How to Save Time & Money taking Photo Records

  1. While I was looking for other information, I ran across your statement on not being able to use the Eye-Fi card with a CF adapter. The statement is incorrect, I’ve been using CF to SD adapter with the Eye-Fi card for several months, and it’s working well!

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