Greatest Medical Innovations
According to Doctors
You probably have your own opinions on what are the greatest medical inventions of our time. Have you ever wondered what doctors think are the greatest medical innovations? You might be surprised to learn what docs sitting around the lunchroom just casually talking about medicine think.
This takes me back to premed days in college when everything was new and exciting. It was mind-numbing learning about all the science of the world. Then moving on to medical school it started all over again with new concepts and technology. At that time it was all about just trying to remember everything. As students we didn’t apply much of the knowledge yet, that was to come in residency. Residency is where young doctors are essentially apprentices to older more experienced physicians. This is where a lot of discussions take place about the practice of medicine. What therapies work and which ones need to be abandoned. This starts a lifetime of conversations doctors will have with each other about the practice of medicine. The talks I find to be the most fun are the ones about medical theory, the future of medicine and about our past.
Everyone loves a good top ten list and doctors are no different. So from 20 years of discussions with my fellow physicians here is my top ten list of the greatest medical innovations of our time.
#1- The hypodermic needle and IV fluids. Most of us docs agree that this simple invention by the Irish physician, Francis Rynd, in 1844 was a game changer. We use IV access on thousands if not millions of patients across the planet everyday. We use this to draw blood for testing and we use it to infuse fluids or medicines into patient’s veins. The ability to give a patient IV fluid has probably saved millions of lives over the years. Just think about the number of deaths in the past that came from dehydration from horrible intestinal infections. It’s just a hollow metal tube but the hypodermic needle revolutionized healthcare.
#2- Vaccines. Edward Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccine in 1796 and since then vaccines have been used to prevent the spread of diseases around the world. Vaccines have allowed us to virtually wipe out deadly diseases like small pox and polio. The simple Flu vaccine, while not perfect, is proven to reduce the number of deaths globally each year. More than any medicine we have invented to date, vaccines have probably saved more lives and will continue to do so, as long as social media propaganda doesn’t thwart our efforts.
#3 Antibiotics. Alexander Fleming discovered the world’s first antibiotic, penicillin, in 1928. It wasn’t until World War II that the world saw the real use for it. Antibiotics were a game changer in the prevention and treatment of infections. Prior to them there was almost no way to stop most bacterial infections. People died from a common strep throat which today is virtually unheard of. Unfortunately bacteria are evolving ways to get around our current antibiotics and so we must be good guardians of their use so as not to abuse them.
#4 Hygiene. Florence Nightingale, during the Crimean war (1850’s) was a stern nurse who helped bring hygiene to what was unsanitary conditions at the hospital and reduced the death rate from 42% to 2%. Something so simple as practicing good hygiene in the hospital has had profound effects on survival rates. Next Dr. Joseph Lister, acting on Louis Pasteur’s discoveries, found that if he used phenol to clean surgical instruments as well as wounds he could reduce infection rates. It is hard to believe in this day and age but just being clean saves lives in healthcare.
#5 Anesthesia- In 1846 Ether was first used for surgery to keep the patient sedated and comfortable. Prior to this, surgery was a barbaric exercise in pain. We have much better anesthesia these days making complicated surgeries like organ transplants possible.
#6 X-rays- Thanks to German physicist, Rontgen, discovering X-rays in 1895 we now have the ability to look inside the body. We now have CT scanners and MRI machines which are even better but the basic X-ray is still used everyday to look for broken bones and pneumonia as well as many other conditions.
#7 EKG machine- William Einthoven invented the electrocardiogram in 1895 and we have been diagnosing heart attacks ever since.
#8 Contraception- You may be wondering why is this one on the list. Well when you look back at the most dangerous time in anyone’s life it has historically been childbirth, both for mom and baby. The invention of birth control actually goes back thousands of years but the first oral contraceptive came into existence in 1960 (thanks in part to Margaret Sanger). Controlling unplanned births can save millions of lives.
#9 Artificial intelligence/robots- We now have computers that are better diagnosticians than most doctors, IBM’s Watson computer for example. This is not to be confused with doing a Google search which is virtually useless for most people. We now have robotic surgery and robot anesthesia machines. It is scary but the future is here folks. Get used to it.
#10 Stem cell therapy- Developed in the 1970’s the use of stem cell therapy is evolving and their potential to cure all kinds of diseases from diabetes to spinal injuries is on the way.
John Turner MD
My Emergency Room 24/7
My Urgent Care