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The Value of Mind Mapping

Mapping is one way of visualizing ideas. (For a sense of how many ways there are, see "A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.") Maps are most commonly used as graphical and textual representations of geographic data, but they may also be used to help teach and understand concepts.

When teaching medicine to other physicians and students (as well as patients), it's helpful to have new tricks up your sleeve -- because it's easy for an audience to become numb to the quantity, complexity, and non-intuitiveness of medical information. Mapping is one of these tricks. Instead of presenting ideas in the form of an outline, or a list, or a PowerPoint slide, ideas are presented as a hierarchical growing web of interconnected thoughts.

Mind Mapping, a term coined by Tony Buzan, refers to a brainstorming and learning technique where a central concept is linked to surrounding ideas, typically with the liberal use of colors, images, and connections.

While "mind mapping" refers to a specific technique, it it also sometimes used loosely to refer to diagrams with networks of concepts. (There is some overlap with flowcharts.) Examples of this idea are Healthline's "HealthMaps" which are visual representations of the components of the epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. (A HealthMap of diabetes mellitus is below.)

Software to create mind maps is available. MindManager, by Mindjet software, is one popular program for the creation of mind maps, flowcharts, organizational charts, and other visual diagrams of ideas.

To illustrate the potential of MindManger, below is a teaching map outlining many options in the workup of high blood pressure (previously posted to

Finally, a free alternative to MindManager is, which also allows the sharing and collaborative creation of maps online.

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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.