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Cornell Medical Index

The Cornell Medical Index (CMI) was created in 1949, with its purpose "to meet the need for an instrument suitable for collecting a large body of pertinent medical and psychiatric data at a minimal expenditure of the physician's time. It serves as a standardized medical history and as a guide to subsequent interview."

The original CMI was validated through several studies on populations of varying sizes (see: Lowe, DJ. PDF icon "The Cornell Indices: A Bibliography of Health Questionnaires" 1975, The Cornell University Medical College Library, New York, NY). From its inception, through the 1970s, the CMI was widely used at both New York Hospital (now NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital) and throughout the country. It was considered valid, reliable and reputable, particularly because it bore the name of Cornell. The CMI was copyrighted by Cornell University Medical College (now Weill Cornell Medical College), so individuals wishing to use it purchased the questionnaire forms and the manual from the college.

By 1980, the situation had changed. The questionnaire was becoming out of date, particularly with regards to language used. The supply of questionnaires was depleted and a reprinting was required. There was a concern about reprinting the CMI without some revision, so the questionnaire was revised but only at the level of the wording. No substantive revision was made in the nature of the data collected by the questionnaire. The revised questionnaire was completed and copyrighted in 1986, and a new printing was completed.  This revised version was sold until 1990. Cornell Medical Index is a Medical Subject Heading, and this PubMed/MEDLINE search will bring up a bibliography of the index's use.

Also in 1986, the issue of the future of the CMI was raised. Sales were declining, and the college wanted to investigate the options available for marketing the CMI. Because it bore Cornell's name, there was concern with the product. A committee was formed to study the CMI, with members appointed by the Chairs of Medicine, Neurology and Psychiatry. The committee examined the issues concerning the CMI, did a survey of past customers, investigated other instruments available for similar uses, and looked at the content of the CMI. These investigations found that there were many uses of the CMI, but the predominant use was by private practice physicians. Many of the comments the committee received indicated a need for revision, although there were users who were satisfied with it as is. The committee also found that the CMI was no longer being used in the New York Hospital because it was not felt to be particularly useful. There also did not appear to be any enthusiasm coming from the individuals on the committee for revising and revalidating the questionnaire, something that would be needed if it were to continue to be actively marketed. As a result of this review, the committee concluded that the CMI was no longer a viable product, and should be phased out. They believed that the CMI was a product that no longer served a useful purpose, and that its continuance had been related more to its historical position than to its contribution to health screening.

As a result of this review, the CMI was phased out over the period of July, 1990 to June, 1991. Since that time, requesters have been told that the CMI is out of print. The college still retains the copyright, however, so it could reinitiate the CMI in the future if there were clinicians interested in doing a revision and revalidation. Since 1991, requesters were informed that they could receive a sample copy and reproduce it for their own non-commercial use, but that they must remove Cornell's name from the forms. This approach allowed the college to respond to requests, and at the same time inform requesters of the problems associated with using the CMI.

As of July 2001, this practice has ceased and now the CMI is available only for historical purposes and for research not involving human subjects. Individuals interested in receiving a copy of the CMI for these purposes should contact the Medical Center Archives: (212) 746-6072.

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Lisa Mix

Lisa Mix
Head, Medical Center Archives
(212) 746-6072
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Elizabeth Shepard

Elizabeth Shepard
Associate Archivist
(212) 746-6072
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