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Information sharing speeds healthcare advances

This article appears in the issue February 2006 [Volume 15, Issue 2]
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An avian flu pandemic could infect 90 million people in the United States and kill 2 million, according to a study released in December by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The economic effects could be equally devastating, with a reduction of about $675 billion in the gross domestic product. Whether that scenario is played out depends in large part on the measures taken to combat the disease. Numerous projects are underway to develop therapies for preventing the disease and antivirals for treating it. Those complex research efforts require significant coordination among pharmaceutical firms, universities, and government agencies.

NIH funded study

In one such research project, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), four organizations are using MindManager from Mindjet to display ongoing activities visually, and to show connections to the associated data for each step of the project. MindManager does not fall readily into any single category typically associated with knowledge management, but incorporates many of its key concepts, such as collaboration, content management and process management. More importantly, it enables the syntheses of those components.

The research is being carried out by a biotechnology company Amaox and two universities, and is aimed at reducing mortality from avian flu by the use of antioxidant liposomes to reduce inflammation and viral replication. The liposomes function as nanotechnology-sized syringes that deliver drugs directly into a cell, where viruses reside in order to replicate. The James H. Quillen College of Medicine at Eastern Tennessee State University (ETSU) is responsible for producing the liposomes, which then undergo animal testing at another university.

Creating a "business map"

One of the most valuable aspects of MindManager is its ability to show the interrelationships among entities. "Having a visual overview provides people with a quick idea of what you are doing, in a way that is not possible from a written description," says Dr. Bill Stone, a professor of pediatrics at the Quillen College of Medicine, and senior scientist on the project. "When people come into our lab, I can easily show them the various aspects of the project from a top-level viewpoint." The visual representation also allows the participating organizations to easily see where they fit into the project.

The first step in using MindManager is to create a graphical document that Mindjet calls a "business map" by defining a central idea. From there, lines are drawn to activities, concepts, organizations or whatever elements are important in the project. Dynamic links can be created to any kind of electronic object such as a file, Web site or e-mail. Excel spreadsheets can be linked so that if the spreadsheet changes, the view in MindManager also changes. Alternatively, files can be attached and automatically sent to other users as part of the map document.

MindManager is useful both in developing ideas and in carrying out processes, Stone says. "When we use it to create new knowledge, the ability to interconnect and define ideas lends clarity to the project," he notes. "But we can also present detail related to specific tasks." For example, protocols used in the testing stored outside MindManager can be readily accessed through links.

Fast-tracking ideas

Ease of use is one of the characteristics of MindManager that most appeals to Stone. "Because I do not have a lot of time to learn new software products, anything I use needs to be very intuitive and easy to learn," observes Stone. "I have not had to use the manual," he remarks, "and only rarely have needed the help screens."

Being able to define and coordinate a project quickly and easily is critical when new ideas need to be fast-tracked, as is the case for avian flu treatments. "MindManager creates a culture of innovation," says Robert Gordon, CEO of Mindjet. "People work together and map ideas, using this visual interface to pool common ideas, create innovative solutions and then build clear work plans to bring those ideas into the real world."

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