A Standard Nomenclature of Disease

  • Medicine & Health
  • 1933

Before 1933, no standard reference existed in American medicine for describing and diagnosing illnesses. The New York Academy of Medicine convened the first conference on the nomenclature of disease in 1928 and the participating medical societies and institutions met year after year to try to hammer out a common terminology for medical practice. When they ran out of funds to support their effort they turned to the Harkness family’s Commonwealth Fund, which became a major patron of the initiative.

Indeed, Commonwealth was the publisher of A Standard Classified Nomenclature of Disease when it was finally released in 1933. This reference offered the first industry standard, which not only aided clinical practice but also made compiling accurate health statistics possible for the first time. The Commonwealth Fund’s nomenclature succeeded where others had failed to be accepted because it abides by a simple and logical classification scheme that helps physicians describe diseases uniformly, leading to more accurate diagnoses, and, in turn, more appropriate treatments. Within a few years of its arrival, nearly all major hospitals and medical schools in the United States and Canada were using the Commonwealth guide.