Portable Document Format files (PDFs) have many uses for medical professionals from annotating patient notes to highlighting relevant medical research documents. Dr Harry Brown discusses best software options.
Portable Document Format (PDF) files are used to create permanent copies of documents and are a popular and standard way of distributing files sometimes of a business or legal nature.
A PDF file requires a software reader, which is freely available for a suitable electronic device such as a computer, smartphone or tablet and there are many free readers that allow the user to read the contents of the PDF file.
Medical professionals may use them to highlight or annotate patient notes or medical research and more sophisticated and commercial software may be needed for these features.
This article will take a brief look at some of these different options.
Many people use Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and do basic work with PDF files and there is nothing significantly wrong with that. However, if you use windows 10 and many of us do, then don’t forget your web browser is likely to work with PDF files. If so, you can make them the default PDF reader.
Also using Windows 10 functionality, you can create a PDF document from many non PDF sources for free by going through the print function. For these two functions, you don’t necessarily need any additional software other than Windows 10 and it’s bundled accessories. You can also save a web page to PDF by this method and this means you can save the data for offline reading for later or for more permanent storage.
If you have access to Microsoft 365, which is a standard commercial paid for suite of programmes, then both Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher offer an export to PDF function (available from File, Export then click the PDF button). The resulting newly created PDF file can also be password protected if you so wish.
Editing and annotating PDFs
A lot of the time, PDF files are meant for easy distribution and reading. If you want specific software to help you work with and manipulate PDF files such as editing them then there is software available that can assist in editing or even annotating PDF files.
There are plenty of PDF tools out there, both free and paid for, but be careful when you download something as sometimes the installation process permits downloading unwanted additional “junk” software onto your device. Take your time during the installation process and watch out for boxes that are automatically ticked that may permit unnecessary and potentially damaging software loading on to your computer.
If you don’t have the need or inclination to install dedicated software onto your computer, there are also online solutions available. One good one that has been around for a while is Zamzar, which for basic use is free and apart from conversions to and from PDF, the site can do a huge number of combinations of file conversions and supports more than 1200 file formats.
A more dedicated PDF online converter is PDF24 Creator, which offers a number of online services as well as the ability to download software onto your computer. This can do the same tricks as the online version - all for free. However, be careful if you are uploading information to any website that is sensitive, after all important and potentially confidential information is leaving your computer and travelling across the internet.
There is plenty of information on line about the clever actions you can do with PDF files. Finally, sometimes people can generate large PDF files (though generally speaking they do tend to possess a small file size) or a large number of them. Sometimes it may not be easy to email them as their sheer size could surpass your email attachment limit. In that case don’t use email to transmit these files but consider a free file transfer tool such as We transfer, which for the free version can transfer up to 2GB at a time.
Harry Brown is a GP, Leeds and Medical Editor, GM Journal