Brief Intro to the Evolution of Medical Technology

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Ancient Greek Documentation

Hippocrates (460-377 B.C) and Galen (131-201 A.D) were first physicians to document their patient’s process of healing to improve patient care. This completely changed how we viewed diseases. They were no longer some mysterious force that took so many lives. One could learn from how patients heal to improve treatment of the next patients. In other words, medical practice in ancient time was about gathering information and processing information.

However, the use of technology in medical practice did not start until the 19th century. For a long time, the practice of medicine was based on patient’s descriptions of symptoms not based on hands-on experience such as examination of a patient’s body. Not until the 18th century did physicians start to use manual techniques to diagnose patients and to study dead bodies.

19th and 20th Century Medical Technology

In the begining of the 19th century, physicians stated employing medical technologies to diagnose and treat diseases. One of the first technologies is a Hutchinson’s device for measuring the vital capacity of the lungs. Another device is Herisson’s sphygmomanometer for blood pressure measurement.

In the first half of the 20th century, medicine was completely revolutionized with the explosion of the use of medical technology. Some of the medical technologies invented in this period were the thermometer, stethoscope, microscope, ophthalmoscope, laryngoscope, and x-ray. With these medical devices, doctors were able to see and hear parts of patient’s body such as lungs, and hearts.

Physicians in early 19th century mostly practiced general medicine, but development of specialities occurred at a very fast rate. In 1930s, 1 out of every 4 doctors was a medical specialist. By 1980, 4 out of 5 doctors were specialists. More doctors became specialists because of the expanding knowledge required for diagnosis and treatments. Furthermore, medical machinery and equipment have become so complex and require specialized skills to operate. Private medical group and hospitals began to form as a result of more doctors becoming specialists.

Medical technology and specialization also increased the amount of data required to diagnose and treat patients. Medical records became an important document for retaining patient’s information. This lead to the need to organize, and store medical data. In 1969, 80% of employees in the medical field were non-physicians. Technology also created a less face to face relationship between doctors and their patients.


Time line of medicine.

Medical Technology: Contexts and Content in Science and Technology Education, Miranda et al. (2005).

Health technology timeline.

This post is part of the series: History of medical technology

This article series will review the development of medical technology from the time of Hippocrates to modern time.

  1. Introduction to the Evolution of Medical Technology
  2. Technological Breakthroughs in Medical Technology