Over the years, important discoveries have been made which have revolutionised healthcare and made modern medicine as efficient, reliable and safe as it is now.
Here are six of the biggest medical milestones.
Perhaps one of the most famous stories in the history of medicine; in the 1800s infectious diseases were the norm and cholera outbreaks were becoming impossible to manage.
Other infections, such as tuberculosis, dysentery, diphtheria, typhoid, measles and smallpox were endemic to urban life.
Dr John Snow identified that managing the distribution of water around highly populated areas had an impact on the spread of these diseases.
However, it was lawyer Edwin Chadwick who proposed the 1834 Poor Act. This act set a minimum standard of living for every member of society, causing the most drastic impact.
By the beginning of the 20th century, death rates had plummeted; sanitation was the root cause of this improvement.
Despite these findings, there are still countries in which adequate, clean water isn’t widely available and this is still having an impact on the health of their populations.
A relatively recent discovery in the medical profession, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) was first researched in 1953 at the University of Cambridge.
The discovery and ability to read and investigate DNA has meant that children can be screened for genetic diseases before they are even born.
It has also led to an increased understanding of blood groups and an instant analysis of new infections, such as Sars.
The effects of the discovery of DNA haven’t yet been fully explored. The potential is huge and it is still a very active area of research. Nobody knows what we can achieve in the future.
There has always been a need to reduce the patient’s pain during medical procedures. At one point, doctors had to rely on uncertain methods like alcohol or opiates which could cause further complications and do more damage. They were also not reliably effective.
In 1846, American dentist, William Morton introduced ether as an anaesthetic. But it wasn’t until Englishman, Dr John Snow realised that different levels of anaesthetic could be used in different circumstances that the practice really took off.
The following year, Dr James Young Simpson from Scotland discovered the effects of chloroform, which soon replaced ether and led to more widespread use of operations to treat conditions.
The introduction of anaesthesia is a key example of healthcare’s efforts to alleviate human suffering.
4. Germ theory
This is the discovery that it is micro-organisms that live inside our bodies that cause infectious diseases. This may seem obvious to us now, but in 1847 it was revolutionary.
A Viennese doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis started looking into germ theory after one of his colleagues died of blood poisoning after performing an autopsy on a woman who died in labour.
Dr Semmelweis introduced cleanliness protocols to his operating theatres and asked the medical community to follow his steps.
Before long, other medics took on his recommendations. Dr Joseph Lister, of Glasgow, insisted on washing all surgical instruments in carbolic acid before operations.
And two from psychology:
5. Unconscious mental processes
After Sigmund Freud first published his work on unconscious mental processes, the academic community changed for good. He suggested that the human mind is like an iceberg, the majority of our thoughts occurring ‘below sea level’. What he meant was that sections of our mind that we aren’t even consciously aware of affect our actions.
At the time, he experienced huge opposition to his theories about the dominance of unconscious thought on human behaviour; these days we would find it hard to imagine a world without it.
He developed revolutionary treatment methods designed to access this unconscious realm; treatments like hypnosis, talking, free association, regression etc.
6. Created memories
In 1974, Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer published research that debunked people’s understanding of how the mind works and how memories are formed.
Their research demonstrated how memories can be adjusted and adapted after an event.
They showed that a person’s memory is prone to being altered in relation to the words used by the person asking them about the event.