Medical breakthroughs make an appearance every now and again and have profoundly changed the way doctors have conducted their practices. What could be taken for granted today was unheard of a few decades ago, so not many people know what has changed the medical field since it began. Many people would admit that it has definitely been for the better, especially with the increased survival rates over the years.
This is more than just the introduction of soap or latex gloves; these are medical procedures that have made it, so people no longer have to suffer from specific ailments to the point that they succumb to them. So what are these medical breakthroughs? Here are the 20 most noteworthy events in the medical industry that have changed both the practice and how patients are approached in today’s modern age.
20. Organ Transplant
The kidney was the first human organ to be successfully transplanted in 1954. Since that time, the US has continuously worked to refine and perfect the process of organ donation and transplantation. While originally limited to the organs of deceased donors, 1989 and 1990 saw the first successful living organ transplants: the liver and lung. In 2021, surgeons performed over 40,000 life-saving organ transplants.
There’s no doubt that the organ donation and transplant process has completely changed the healthcare industry. Over 100,000 people in the US are on waiting lists for transplants, and those who receive transplants could see their life expectancy extended by a decade or more. And though there are risks associated with the surgery – as with any major surgery – organ recipients agree that the benefits far outweigh the potential dangers. Being able to live a longer, healthier life is possible for tens of thousands of people a year because of the organ transplant procedure.
19. Electronic Health Records
Would you believe that the first attempts at creating Electronic Health Records (EHRs) were in the 1960s? Called clinical information systems, medical centers developed these early attempts individually. In the ’80s, the systems began to evolve, with industry-wide standards being formed based on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) intensive analysis of paper health records.
Now, doctors use EHRs in nearly every hospital, urgent care center, and clinic in the US. Plus, EHRs are in many centers around the world. EHRs have remarkably streamlined and improved patient care by allowing multiple providers access to a patient’s records without waiting for documents to be faxed or shipped from office to office. Your EHR also contains information from every doctor involved in your care, authorizing quick and easy access; this allows doctors to provide efficient, coordinated care and dramatically reduces the chance of errors. While we can still improve the system, there’s no doubt that Electronic Health Records have greatly improved the overall quality of care patients can receive.
18. Needle-Free Injections Are One of the Best Medical Breakthroughs
One of the more common phobias of being treated by doctors is that of needles. Whether it’s vaccinations, IV drips, or getting a routine booster shot, some people can’t handle taking a needle to the arm. However, modern research may be able to overcome those phobias with new needle-less injections. So how exactly does it work? Researchers in the Netherlands have developed laser technology that has negated the need for a needle altogether.
Nicknamed the “bubble gun,” it uses a laser to push tiny droplets of whatever is in the syringe through the outer layer of the skin. The process is described as being much quicker than a mosquito bite and should not result in any kind of pain whatsoever. They penetrate the skin with the laser without causing it any damage. The hope is that within the next few years, this method will be more adopted by the medical industry so that patients are more willing to get shots and vaccines, especially if they have a phobia of needles.
17. Antiviral Drugs
In the late 1970s, only three drugs were available that were used to treat viral infections. Since then, there are now over forty drugs that doctors have approved for treating viral infections. This has led to the treatment and elimination of diseases and conditions that would have plagued the ordinary person today. Due to the advances made in the 1980s, genome sequencing went to work on breaking the virus down to its most basic parts. Why? To see which drugs they could create to combat them more effectively.
This scientific discovery unraveled the secret to virus replication. Experts developed drugs to hinder this process so that the human body could combat an ailment more readily. Diseases became more manageable, survival rates started to grow. Plus, viral conditions were on the decline. Why? Because they were eliminated or reduced to the point of minimizing infections of other healthy individuals. Although viral infections will never entirely disappear, the human race is better equipped than it once was to deal with these viruses and survive them.
16. Prosthetic Technology Produces Remarkable Medical Breakthroughs
In the past, if you lost a limb, then you would have to do without it for the rest of your life. But the advent of prosthetic technology has made it so that you don’t have to completely live without a limb ever again. Prosthetic technology ranges from artificial limbs like legs and arms to exoskeletons that can help paralyzed people walk again. The technology that experts put into prosthetics had made it easier for people with disabilities to get around. They can perform ordinary tasks the way they used to they had limbs.
In the past few years, the development of 3D printing has also helped the prosthetic industry by making prosthetics more affordable, using lighter materials. Plus, they can make prosthetics using more accurate measurements to be the right size for the right person. Neuroprosthetics are also on the rise, providing individuals with the ability of artificial touch, despite not having a real limb to be used more accurately. The goal is to create an artificial limb that works just as well as a natural hand to have more accuracy in dexterity.
15. MRI and CT Scans
MRI and CT scans have definitely made it easier for doctors to see the inner workings of a person’s body. The process first started with X-Rays, where Professor Rontgen accidentally discovered how the reaction between cathode rays and vacuum tubes to see the bones underneath the skin. Since then, Doctor Damadian developed the MRI, which uses magnetic resonance to see more than just bones. Doctors can use the machine to see tissues and muscles underneath the skin. They first did this in 1970, and hospitals still use MRI machines today.
Experts also created CT scans in the 1970s. They based the development on trying to combine multiple X-Rays taken at various angles to get an overall picture of the human body. Many people are confused about the differences between CT scans and MRIs. Though both capture images within the body, the former uses X-Rays while the latter uses radio waves. There are also some benefits to choosing one over the other. For example, CT scans are generally faster to conduct, while MRIs provide more detailed pictures of tissues and organs. Keep reading for more medical breakthroughs that changed the healthcare industry.
14. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
Electrocardiograms, or EKGs, changed the medical sphere by providing necessary information about the heart and how it operates. Studying the heart was once limited to listening to it through a stethoscope because of how delicate the heart actually is; there was no way to examine it more carefully without causing a patient a lot of pain. However, EKGs changed this for the better. Researchers invented it back in 1909, and they developed it with the study of arrhythmias in mind. It is a completely painless, non-invasive procedure that studies the heart’s electrical signals to see if it is functioning properly.
Nowadays, doctors use them to study more than just arrhythmias. These medical devices can see if there are blocked or narrowed arteries or if you’re at risk for a heart attack. They detect certain conditions affecting the heart that could require the installation of a pacemaker. Experts don’t recommend EKGs for those at low risk or who don’t have any symptoms. However, if symptoms are infrequent, you can use personal EKGs called Holter monitors to record the signals so that doctors can diagnose what the problems might be.
13. Birth Control Pills Are Necessary Medical Breakthroughs
Birth control has made it much easier for women to control their bodies and help alleviate the horrible signs associated with menstrual cramps each month. It is a form of contraception that contains hormones that help ease the symptoms before, during, and after the menstrual cycle. These hormones work to reduce the chances of pregnancy taking place by preventing the release of eggs from the ovary, thinning the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg is less likely to attach to the uterine wall, and thickening the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot enter the uterus.
It was created and developed in the 1950s by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, John Rock, and Gregory Pincus. The pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancies as long as it’s taken simultaneously every day. This made it easier for women to enjoy sex without the fear of becoming pregnant. Bill control gave them much more freedom and choice over their lives to pursue other avenues that were previously unavailable to women. The hormones in birth control pills have also helped women who deal with excruciating conditions like endometriosis.
12. Medical Imaging
The concept of medical imaging began back in 1895. It’s where the idea of X-Rays originated, as we mentioned earlier. They based this idea on the principle of passing ionized radiation through the body to a photosensitive plate on the other side. It would pass through muscles and tissues and get blocked by bones; it’s why the skeletal structure shows up on X-Rays. Modern X-Rays now use contrast agents in order to make organs and blood vessels show up on X-Rays. Since then, researchers have developed CT scans and MRIs from this concept.
Medical imaging has definitely made strides in helping doctors. They help them see what’s going on inside the human body to make more accurate diagnoses. This has led to more specific treatment options and surgeries. In turn, it has helped patients to have better outcomes and increased survival rates. Medical imaging has decreased the need for exploratory surgery. Why? Because everything is visible on medical imaging so that they know exactly where to go. Now, they have become a regular part of a patient’s medical routine depending on their ailments. In fact, it is so influential that no one questions what people did before medical imaging. Keep reading for more medical breakthroughs that changed the healthcare industry.
11. ACL Repair Has Advanced With Medical Breakthroughs
ACL injuries, also known as anterior cruciate ligament injuries, are among the most common injuries. This muscle is in the knee, and injuries to this muscle mostly occur while playing sports. In the past, once someone suffered from an ACL injury, there was no hope of recovery. However, medical technology nowadays has made it possible for a person to recover from this kind of injury. ACL surgery dates back to the time of the Egyptians. However, it is only in the 20th century that doctors fully understand what is involved in this ligament and the necessary surgery to repair it.
Over the decades, doctors have grafted various muscle tissues to the knee to help a tear repair. One of the first ones was the hamstring graft back in 1934, where a piece of the hamstring was removed and then surgically attached within the knee. After 18 months, the knee had full extension and reduced flexion. Other grafts use the patellar tendon as well as synthetic materials made from carbon implants. Subsequent surgeries and surgical techniques have further improved the range of motion after a graft surgery to the point that there is full range of motion.
Researchers discovered insulin in 1921, but people with diabetes didn’t live for very long before this discovery. This was because doctors had no idea what to do for them that could help them with this condition. The only thing that worked was putting them on a strict diet limiting carbohydrates in order to keep the state maintained, but this could only do so much. This really only gave them a few extra years of life if they didn’t die of starvation first. However, it took two German scientists in 1889 to discover that when they removed the pancreas from a dog, it would start showing signs of diabetes.
They’d found the secret to insulin production within the body and started working on ways to control this. In 1921, a young surgeon named Frederick Banting discovered how to remove insulin from the pancreas and used it to treat patients with diabetes. The first patient was a young 14-year-old boy dying from diabetes; after he received his first injection, his blood glucose levels began to drop to near-normal levels. The medical field moved from insulin from dogs to extract it from pigs and cattle. Nowadays, people use synthetic insulin created in laboratories to help people control their diabetes.
9. Gene Therapy
Gene therapy was actually first developed in the 1960s, but it has only come to light recently in the medical field and is being used to help people. Back then, doctors considered that DNA sequences could help patients with certain genetic disorders. In the 1980s, doctors wrote a paper on how a virus could introduce genes into the stem cells for beneficial purposes. Today, we’re able to see a complete blueprint of our own DNA to know which conditions we’re more prevalent to.
Gene therapy first became successful in a four-year-old patient born with severe combined immunodeficiency, which caused her T cells to die off so that she couldn’t fight infections. However, through gene therapy, her body became able to fight these infections off, and she is still alive today. Gene therapy mainly falls into two broad categories: ex vivo and in vivo. Ex vivo is where cells are removed from a patient and used as a vector for new genetic material to be reintroduced. In vivo involves the direct infusion of the vector into the bloodstream or other targeted organs. Keep reading for more medical breakthroughs that changed the healthcare industry.
8. 3D Printing Creates Medical Breakthroughs
When experts first developed 3D printing, more people saw it as a creative outlet to create whatever they wanted. But very few people considered the benefits it could bring to the medical field. At first, they considered the process of creating prosthetics for those who were missing limbs. However, technology has expanded much more than that. Labs can now 3D print living tissue, minimizing the need for skin grafts or searching for donors. Called 3D bioprinting, researchers have combined living tissue with biopolymer gels within the body without much risk of rejection.
Organ printing is also in the works, which will reduce wait times for those in immediate need of organ donation. There’s also a reduced risk of rejection; when a person gets an organ transplant, they must go on many medications to reduce their white blood cell production so that their body doesn’t reject the new organ. These drugs also put their body at risk for contracting infections that can be quite deadly. On the other hand, organ printing reduces the need for this kind of risk.
At one time, if something happened to your kidneys or your liver, then that was the end of it. These are organs responsible for filtering out toxins from your blood and body so that you can stay healthy. But when these organs start to malfunction, you can get very, very sick. Without dialysis, you pretty much had a death sentence. Doctors first discussed the concept of dialysis in the 19th century, and it wasn’t until 1913 that they used this idea in the medical field.
During the process, they used anesthetized animals, and they filtered the blood outside of the body through cellulose membranes to filter out certain substances. Machines called “dialyzers” were then built to help patients in the stages of kidney failure. Many of these patients were too far gone in their conditions and didn’t survive. Plus, the machines were not completely effective at cleaning out the blood. But since then, dialysis machines have been constantly built and improved upon until we have the devices that we do today. Now, patients with kidney diseases or malfunction can seek treatment with a dialysis machine that can help them continue living full and healthy lives.
6. Cancer Immunotherapy
Cancer is one of the biggest killers because there are so many different types. Once you were diagnosed with cancer, there wasn’t much left for you to do back in the day. However, radiation and chemotherapy came onto the scene, which has helped people survive this horrible disease. But both chemo and radiation have some awful side effects that can make a patient feel a lot worse before getting better. That’s when cancer immunotherapy came onto the scene to try and improve what a patient has to go through.
The way chemo and radiation work are that it targets almost all the cells in the body to kill off the cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. On the other hand, cancer immunotherapy stimulates the body’s natural immune system to increase its chances of fighting off the disease. For the time being, CIT treatments are pretty limited in scope because of how complex tumors already are. However, research is constantly looking for ways to overcome these hurdles to prove the outcome of CIT therapies so that people can use them more widely to help more patients combat cancer. Keep reading for more medical breakthroughs that changed the healthcare industry.
5. Vaccines Are Part of Amazing Medical Breakthroughs
The history of modern vaccines began in the late 18th century with the discovery of immunization against smallpox. It started with Doctor Edward Jenner when he took cowpox and inoculated a young boy; as a result, the boy became immune to smallpox. It started the discovery of using weaker versions of viruses in order to help people develop an immunity against the more potent virus. Then in the 20th century, vaccines for polio were developed and helped to change the world’s fight against this horrible infection. Contracting polio could lead to spinal paralysis and muscle weakness.
Since then, researchers have made strides in developments with other vaccines. Some include tetanus, the flu, diptheria, measles, mumps, and rubella, just to name a few. The creation of these vaccines has helped children from young ages develop immunity to these diseases. That way, they have a chance to live well into adulthood. Clinics offer flu shots every year at the beginning of the flu season. They help decrease the risk of infections and help people fight off the symptoms. Thanks to vaccines, it has become more difficult for viruses to spread. Not only that, but vaccines have allowed people worldwide not to contract these deadly diseases.
Have you considered that doctors didn’t discover modern anesthesia until 1846? To think of what patients went through without anesthesia can be scary. So, be thankful that you live in a modern age where you can endure surgical procedures and invasive treatments without having to experience tremendous amounts of pain. Of course, it wasn’t as barbaric as you might think. Anesthesia has been used since the time of the Babylonians and Greeks, while in the 1200s, doctors used sponges soaked with opium and mandrake root. But this only did so much to minimize the pain.
In 1846, a dentist in Boston first used sulfuric ether. Why? To anesthetize a man who needed to remove a tumor from his neck. He started to expose himself and his pets to the fumes. When he was satisfied that it was safe to use, he began using it on his dental patients. Since then, other doctors have created and utilized other substances that provide pain-free experiences to their patients. That way, they can undergo procedures without the stress of pain. These substances included nitrous oxide, chloroform, cocaine, sodium thiopental, and cyclopropane, just to name a few.
3. Minimally Invasive Surgery
Surgeries used to be very open. Surgeons had to cut parts of the body open in order to correct an issue. That sometimes led to massive loss of blood, the risk of infection, and a long recovery time because of how many stitches were needed to close up a patient. However, surgeries are now less invasive, where doctors insert tiny devices through incisions that are only a few inches wide and can still achieve the same results. Specialized equipment has small cameras on the ends of them so that surgeons can see exactly what they’re doing without a patient being fully cut open.
The many benefits of minimally invasive surgeries include less pain and less blood loss (so there’s less need for transfusions). Plus, there is less damage to the surrounding tissues, reduced risk of complications, and a faster recovery time. The less time a patient has to stay in the hospital, the better their chances are to improve when it comes to getting back to their usual routines. And because of the accuracy of these devices, there is less risk. Keep reading for more medical breakthroughs that changed the healthcare industry.
2. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence was once a thing of science fiction. There are movies about robotic overlords capable of taking over an entire planet, which made people a little afraid to adopt them. But over time, the medical field has recognized the importance of artificial intelligence and has implemented it into its practice. The most common applications include diagnosing patients or improving communication between the physician and the patient. They can transcribe medical documents like prescriptions. Plus, another benefit is remotely treating patients when a doctor is unavailable. Doctors also use artificial intelligence to classify skin cancers so that dermatologists can better treat their patients.
The implementation of artificial intelligence has made diagnosing and treatment of patients happen more quickly and effectively. Patients won’t have to endure a lengthy process of reaching a diagnosis. Instead, artificial intelligence can now narrow down symptoms, make it easier for physicians to spend more time on patients’ charts, and assist with any questions patients may have outside of the office hours. There is the hope that AI will be able to advance the healthcare sector in the future, though there are still many challenges to overcome.
1. The Development of Antibiotics Is One of the Best Medical Breakthroughs
Most people take antibiotics for granted. Before researchers discovered them, biotic infections were quite prevalent, and people easily succumbed to them. Diseases and infections like rheumatic fever, gonorrhea, or pneumonia had no treatment, so that patients would die from them. It wasn’t until Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and started putting it to good use in 1928 that people finally understood that they could actually live healthier lives. He examined his Petri dishes with colonies of Staphylococcus and found that one of the dishes was absent of bacteria where a spot of mold was growing.
Fleming later discovered that this mold was Penicillium notatum killed a wide range of harmful bacteria. He then got his assistants to help him isolate this mold and extract the penicillin. That way, he could use it for therapeutic purposes. Nine years later, it was then turned into a life-saving drug by a number of Oxford University colleagues. They worked on animals first through a series of clinical trials before they started implementing it with humans, using milk churns and bedpans to grow their cultures. Since discovering penicillin, experts have created hundreds of antibiotics to treat and counteract other bacterial infections and diseases.