Technology 9 min read

Top 10 Medical Inventions That Changed How We Practice Medicine



We’ve seen several medical inventions over the centuries. While some of them have merely contributed to the progress of medical science, others have entirely revolutionized the way we practice medicine today.

As a result, we now have solutions to medical problems once considered incurable. Also, tedious procedures are more comfortable now than ever.

Basically, medical science has become practical. And these medical inventions have played a big role in changing the practice for good.

But, which medical inventions have had the most impact on our world?

10 Medical inventions That Changed Everything


#1 The Medical Thermometer: Galileo Galilei and Gabriel Fahrenheit

Medical Thermometer | Image Credit: CGTRader

In the 1590s, Galileo Galilei invented the first medical thermometer – more appropriately called a water thermoscope.

At the time, the instrument lacked an accurate scale with which to measure temperature. Also, changes in atmospheric pressure easily influenced the invention. An Italian physician – Santorio Santorio – decided to address these issues.

Not only did Santorio put a measurable scope on the thermoscope, but he also wrote about the new upgrade. The scientists were not done innovating.

Other contributors to the development of the medical thermometer include Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1645, the Duke invented a new form of enclosed thermometer that used alcohol circa.

However, a Polish-born Dutch Physicist, engineer, and glass blower – called Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit – may have made the most significant contribution to the medical invention.

He started with the average alcohol thermometer in 1709. Taking advantage of mercury’s fast response to temperature changes, Gabriel developed the mercury thermometer five years later.

Having recorded the system, Fahrenheit created a new temperature scale and named it after himself.

For almost a century, the medical instrument remained too complicated to transport and use. It was about a foot long and took as much as twenty minutes to measure a patient’s temperature.

But that all changed in 1867.

That year, English Physician, Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt designed the first portable clinical thermometer.

Furthermore, Allbutt’s new medical thermometer took less time to get an accurate reading. With the new medical technology, physicians were able to take their patient’s temperature in only five minutes.

#2 The Stethoscope: René Laënnec

Before the 1800s, physicians had to put their head on their patient’s chest to listen to their heartbeats. This method was crude and inefficient.

Most importantly, it was a bit awkward for all the parties involved, especially for a French physician at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris.

René Laënnec was so uncomfortable with putting his ears on women’s chest that he decided to find a solution.

The physician first rolled a piece of paper and placed it between his ear and the patient’s chest. Not only did the simple device amplify the sound of the heartbeat, but it did not require physical contact with the patient too.

Using this principle, Laënnec made a wooden trumpet-like instrument to listen to sound from the heart and the lungs. He called his new medical device Stethoscope – which literally means chest scope.

Although the stethoscope has evolved over the years into an unofficial symbol for healthcare professionals, its fundamental principle of sound application remains the same.

#3 X-Ray Imaging: Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen

X-Rays | Image Credit: GrepMed

Today, we can’t imagine diagnosing or treating common injuries such as fractures without consulting X-Ray imaging technology first. But before the discovery of X-rays, that was what happened.

In 1895, when German Physics professor, Wilhelm Röntgen stumbled on X-rays, he immediately recognized its healthcare use potential. Alongside his Physical-Medical Society submission, Röntgen sent a letter to all the physicians he knew in Europe.

Word spread rapidly all the way to North America. One year after its discovery, John Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England used X-rays under clinical conditions.

First, he used the new medical invention to radiograph a needle stuck in the hand of an acquaintance. One month later, Hall-Edwards used X-rays during a surgical procedure.

In 1901, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen won the first-ever Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery.

#4 Antibiotics: Alexander Fleming, Alfred Bertheim, and Paul EhrlichTop 10 Medical Inventions That Changed How We Practice Medicine

Alexander Fleming is often associated with the advent of antibiotics when he accidentally created Penicillin in 1928. In actuality, Alfred Bertheim and Paul Ehrlich created Salvarsan – now known as Arsphenamine – way back in 1907.

The drug marked the beginning of anti-bacterial treatment at the time when it was used to fight Syphilis. However, antibiotics did not gain popularity until Fleming introduced Penicillium Notatum 21 years later.

Today, antibiotics have revolutionized healthcare. Alongside vaccines, this medical invention has contributed to the partial eradication of diseases such as Tuberculosis.

#5 Eye Glasses: Unknown Inventor

The first wearable glasses, Italy, between 1260-1290 | Image Credit: Pinterest

Unlike the other medical inventions on this list, the spectacles’ inventor is still up for debate. But, it doesn’t make it less useful.

According to WHO, about 1.3 billion people live with some form of distance or near vision impairment. While 826 million people have a near vision impairment, others are either suffering from mild, moderate, or severe distance vision impairment.

Aside from cataracts, refractive error is the second leading cause of vision impairment. As you may have guessed, that’s where the spectacles come in.

The first pair of spectacles originated from Northern Italy. Experts believe that it was most likely from Pisa, around 1290.

On February 23, 1306, Dominican friar Giordano da Pisa said in a sermon:

“It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses, which make for good vision… And it is so short a time that this new art, never before extant, was discovered. … I saw the one who first discovered and practiced it, and I talked to him.”

Within a short while, Giordano’s colleague, Friar Alessandro della Spina of Pisa was making glasses for anyone who wanted them.

#6 The Hypodermic Needle: Charles Pravaz and Alexander Wood

Top 10 Medical Inventions That Changed How We Practice Medicine

Before the invention of the hypodermic needle about 150 years ago, physicians depended on a thin hollow tool to inject fluids into the body. In 1656, Christopher Wren gave a dog an intravenous injection using a goose quill.

But somewhere in the mid-1800s, Alexander Wood and Charles Pravaz invented the hypodermic needle. Today health professionals use these needles to deliver the correct drug dosage during treatment and to extract body fluids.

In the end, this invention improves both the physical and patient’s experience while offering a lower risk of contamination and minimal pain.

#7 Cardiac Pacemaker: Mark C. Lidwill and Edgar H. Booth

Early Model of the Cardiac Pacemaker | Image Credit: MPR News

In 1926, Mark C. Lidwill and Edgar H. Booth of the University of Sidney devised the first pacemaker.

According to reports, the pacemaker’s rate varied between 80 to 120 pulses per minute. Also, its voltage fluctuated from 1.5 to 120 volts.

Two years after its invention, the scientific duo used their medical apparatus to revive a stillborn infant at Crown Street Women’s Hospital, Sydney. At the end of ten minutes of stimulation, the young heart continued to “to beat on its own accord.”

Today, almost 3 million people across the globe are living with a pacemaker. Also, an additional 600,000 pacemakers are implanted every year to treat bradycardia patients.

Thanks to advancement in technology, the modern day pacemakers are compatible with MRI machines.

Speaking on the issue, M.D., director of electrophysiology at the Oklahoma Heart Institute in Tulsa, David Sandler said:

“A long-lasting and small wireless pacemaker that allows patients to undergo MRI scans is an important step forward in growing our available treatment options for patients.”

#8 CT Scanner and MRI: Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield and Dr. Raymond V. Damadian

CT Scan and MRI Images | Image Credit: Joseph Spine

After the discovery of the X-ray, scientists dedicated more research effort towards accessing more details of the body without cutting it open with the help of new medical inventions.

The result of this effort was the CT scanner, which Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield invented. With the device, health professionals were able to observe multiple layers within multiple X-ray images.

In 1979, Hounsfield won a Nobel prize for medicine.

A couple of years later, an American physician, Raymond V. Damadian needed a way to differentiate between cancerous and healthy cells. While X-rays were already famous at the time, it was not suited for what Damadian wanted.

So, the physician invented a new medical imaging technique using nuclear magnetic resonance. Eventually, other researchers improved on Damadian’s method and called it MRI.

#9 The Ophthalmoscope: Charles Babbage and Hermann von Helmholtz

An early model of the Helmholtz ophthalmoscope, 1851. | Image Credit: ResearchGate

In 1847, Charles Babbage devised a new instrument which allows health professionals to see inside of the fundus of the eye. It was later rediscovered and popularized by German physician and physicist, Hermann von Helmholtz.

The ophthalmoscope’s working principle is quite straight-forward.

It directs light into the eye using a small prism or mirror. Then, the light reflects off the retina, and back into the medical device through a small hole. The result is a magnified image of the internal structures of the human eye.

Over the years, the ophthalmoscope has undergone various improvements. Whether its Anagnostakis’s concave mirror, or Francis Welch and William Noah Allyn’s handheld direct illuminating version, this medical invention has only become better with time.

Today, the ophthalmoscope is one of the most widely used medical screening devices in the world.

#10 Prosthetics and Implants

Physical disability can be very challenging at a mental and emotional level. But, the invention of prostheses and implants has made it somewhat easier. Now, people have the option of living beyond crutches and wheelchair thanks to these new medical inventions.

While some implants are made from bone, skin, or body tissues, others come from more synthetic materials. These include metal, plastic, ceramic, and in recent times, carbon fibers.

Depending on the function, an implant can either be temporary or permanent.

For example, a hip implant is permanent. On the other hand, a health professional can remove screws to repair broken bones when they are no longer required.

Future prosthetics already look promising. With inbuilt myoelectric sensors, users could one day grip and hold on to objects using just their brain impulses.

Read More: 5 Drug Delivery Systems Revolutionizing Healthcare

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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