While medical innovations have progressed dramatically over the previous century, the last 20 years specifically have resulted in monumental advancements that substantially increased medical care standards and improved overall global health. In this article, we outline what we believe to be the four most significant medical innovations of the past 20 years.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
It is hard to believe in such a modern era, but a mere decade ago, fewer than 18 percent of medical providers used electronic health records. In President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address in January 2004, he stated that “By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs and improve care.”1
This was by no means an exaggeration —in fact, it may not have been a strong enough statement. Prior to EHRs, paper charts led to inefficiencies, medical mistakes, and unnecessary hospitalizations because providers often were unaware of conflicting medications or previously diagnosed conditions. An Institute of Medicine report indicated that one in seven hospitalizations is a result of missing clinical information, a common issue with paper records.2
Today, nearly 80 percent of medical providers use EHRs —an important and dramatic jump from just 10 years ago.3
HIV Combined Drug Therapy
In the 1980s and early 90s, contracting the HIV virus often resulted in a life expectancy of just a few months that consisted of multiple hospitalizations and the need for constant medical assistance.4 Just after the antiretroviral therapy (ART) was approved by the FDA in 1995, the mortality rate from HIV and related illnesses dropped by a whopping 83 percent.
The therapy for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS continues to evolve, many of which now actually help prevent transmission of the virus. Today, those diagnosed are expected live an additional 50 years or more than those stricken with the disease just a few years ago.4
Minimally Invasive Surgery
Although the first experiments of examining a patient internally and performing procedures with minimal injury began in as far back as the time of Hippocrates and progressed with the invention of the Lichtleiter in the early 1800s,5 minimally invasive surgery evolved dramatically with the introduction of modern robotics in the operating room in 1994.
Since then, procedures that had once been incredibly invasive that required long hospital stays and longer recovery time are now done with minimally invasive surgeries on an outpatient basis. Today, healthcare consumers can choose to have several different surgical procedures performed as either robotic surgery or endoscopic (non-robotic) surgery, which result in much shorter recovery times, less pain and dramatically reduced scarring.5
Needle-Free Injection Technology
When hypodermic syringe technology was initially developed in 1853, it helped to increase vaccination rates and better treat illnesses by delivering medication in a much more precise fashion. Although innovative 150 years ago, the hypodermic technology has failed to evolve.6 The needle and syringe was a milestone innovation in its time, but when used improperly can transmit disease and even lead to death among medical providers and patients alike.
During the 1940s and1950s, needle-free air powered injection systems were first developed7 to provide an alternative to hypodermic syringes. More recently, PharmaJet further improved jet injection technology by adding an auto-disabling syringe to eliminate the possibility of cross-contamination. Additionally, the injector does not require an external power source or costly gas cartridges. Most of all, needle-free technology eliminates needlestick injuries and the possibility of needle reuse, which provides a safer healthcare environment for the patient and medical personnel.
- “A Brief History of Electronic Health Records.” American HealthTech. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.healthtech.net/post-acute-care-blog/bid/114719/a-brief-history-of-electronic-health-records-ehrs>.
- ”What do Electronic Health Records Mean for Our Practice?” The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/csi/ehrkit-brochure.pdf>.
- “EHR Adoption Rate Slows, With Physicians Facing Big Hurdles for Meeting Stage 2, Survey Finds.” Modern Healthcare. January 20, 2014. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140120/NEWS/301209957#>.
- “HIC/AIDS Research: 30 Years of Progress.”innovation.org. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.innovation.org/index.cfm/impactofinnovation/Progress_in_HIV-AIDS_Research>.
- “Brief Laparoscopy History.” Chicago Institute of Minimally Invasive Surgery. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.laparoscopicexperts.com/introduction.html>.
- “History of Medical Injection Devices.” Milestone Scientific. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.milestonescientific.com/about_history.html>.
- “Needle Free Injection Technology.” PharmaTutor. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.pharmatutor.org/articles/needle-free-injection-technology?page=0,0>.