The New Medicine: Medical Care’s Increasing Reliance on Technology

Anyone who’s watched ER or any of the other fast-paced medical dramas on TV has seen the actors expertly manipulate all kinds of medical equipment, from intubation tubes to IVs to complex diagnostic equipment. Medicine has seen an enormous transformation, largely due to technological advances.

One piece of medical equipment [] making a big impact on diagnosis is the endoscope. A slender, flexible piece of tubing is fitted with an electronic camera assembly with superb optics and inserted into the patient’s body, supplying doctors with images of a variety of internal organs and allowing for very accurate diagnoses. Now used routinely as part of a complete physical exam for people over forty, this one piece of equipment is responsible for catching thousands of precancerous and early-stage cancer conditions in the colon alone, saving thousands of lives annually. Other advances include a camera that can be swallowed, taking pictures of the intestinal tract before it is eliminated from the body and retrieved.

Lasers are another tool coming more into their own in the operating room and, in some cases, in the doctor’s office. Ophthalmologists can perform laser surgery on patients’ eyes to repair an increasing number of eye conditions and provide more and more people with perfect vision. Laser surgery has also been used to limit damage from diabetic retinopathy, thus saving at least a portion of the affected patient’s eyesight. Lasers have been used to perform knee surgery and even brain surgery; in the latter the laser can destroy diseased brain tissue while minimizing the damage to healthy tissue. Plastic surgeons are using lasers now for a number of cosmetic procedures which are faster and less invasive than conventional surgery.

Another new technology that has entered the medical field is robotics. Mechanical devices have been created, some operated by hand, others by use of a foot pedal, still others operated electronically, which allow incredibly small and precise movements. Lasers used on the brain often have a robotic component, as do endoscopic units.

Another medical advance has come to public attention with the return of wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have injuries requiring the amputation of arms or legs. Prosthetic devices are increasingly high-tech and high-function, allowing veterans to walk and even run with more natural movement and, with the use of mechanical arms and hands, lift and manipulate objects.

As amazing as all of these advances are, there are even more to come. Researchers are now working on a computer program which can interact with a person’s brain in such a way that the user can move a curser on a computer screen with the energy of thought. Astonishing in itself, just imagine if this new technological development is at the same stage as, say, Pac man was in comparison to the video games available today. Tomorrow’s medical developments may bring us treatments and even cures which we can’t even comprehend today.