A Free Community Approach to Classifying Disease

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A Free Community Approach to Classifying Disease

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
Nov 01, 2004
  • Biology
  • Communication
  • Medicine
  • Political Science


PLME0102_93-124.indd PLoS Medicine | www.plosmedicine.org 113 November 2004 | Volume 1 | Issue 2 | e16 Defi ning and classifying disease is at the heart of medical practice. But the standard approach to classifi cation is slow and laborious. A new approach promises to revolutionise the way in which we classify disease. It involves the free and public sharing of information via the Internet—the so-called open-source, or, perhaps more appropriately termed, “free community,” approach (R. M. Stallman, personal communication). The International Society for Neuropathology is the fi rst worldwide professional medical organisation to adopt such an approach with its International Classifi cation of Diseases of the Nervous System (ICDNS; see http:⁄⁄www.ICDNS.org). The main characteristics of the ICDNS are free collaboration via the Internet, online access to all collaborative tools via the World Wide Web, global participation, and democratic decision making [1]. Why We Need a New Approach Before a disease can be recognised, its nature and the conditions surrounding it must be determined in order to establish criteria for its defi nition. The more precise a disease defi nition, the greater the benefi t is for the patient, especially where specifi c treatments are available. Once individual diseases are defi ned, they can be classifi ed, resulting in the creation of conceptual links that are fundamentally important for medical practice and the advancement of medical knowledge. One example is the conceptual linking of Pick disease, Alzheimer disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, and corticobasal degeneration as members of the group of tauopathies. However, the way in which medical classifi cations of disease traditionally evolve is problematic. Usually, small groups of experts meet and decide on a classifi cation that fi ts best with their personal experience. Classifi cations then change when new scientifi c developments are applied t

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