As boring as the Wikipedia definition sounds, technology is described as “the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a pre-existing solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function.” However, this description just tries to put into words the power of technology, but does this power little justice.
To quote the English writer Anthony Burgess: “It’s always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going.” I feel that this quote emphasises that motivation for what is possible in the future can be found from looking at examples where technology has benefited society in the past. So get ready for some history!
When I think of areas where technology is used to do good, I immediately think of healthcare. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest areas of potential for technology to be of benefit, as here technology is used to help diagnose, treat and even prevent illnesses and injuries. The use of electronic computers in healthcare began around the 1950s in the United States in coincidence with the rise of the computer industry, where Robert Ledley, who later went on to invent the first full body CT scanner, is believed to be one of the founding fathers of U.S. informatics through his use of computers in dental projects for the U.S. Army.
Another early use for computers was to measure and observe normal human movement to help improve the designs of prosthetic limbs for patients. This was done using computers which allowed significantly larger sample size data to be analysed than had previously been practical to undertake with mechanical calculators. This resulted in getting a clear understanding of how human motion changes with age and body characteristics, which in turn greatly improved their designs which benefited patients greatly. Although this sounds like such a simple thing, it was significant as it led the way for the widespread use of computers in healthcare.
As technology advanced, and with the invention of a number of programming languages, there was a drive to try and create diagnostic systems and, in general, to make use of technology where it could be of benefit. MUMPS was one such programming language that was invented around in the late 1960s. It allowed medical databases to be created and integrated, which was a very significant milestone in the growing field of health informatics, emphasised by its use to this day, as it is still the basis for many healthcare record systems. From there, numerous systems were developed for all kinds of things, such as those that were able to help doctors to identify the type of bacteria behind numerous bacterial infections, then recommend antibiotics and dosage amounts for treatment.
Today it would be hard to imagine undergoing a diagnostic procedure without the use of medical imaging technology, such as CT or MRI scans. These medical imaging technologies are still as vital today as they were when they were invented in the diagnosis and treatment of patients and are undoubtedly of enormous benefit in healthcare. As well as these more complicated and advanced technologies there are still slightly more simple technologies used today, such as simple heart-rate monitors in identifying and monitoring cardiac irregularities in patients.
In the near future, I believe that achieving universal integration of Electronic Medical Records into healthcare will be one of the most significant steps in healthcare technologies. This will lead to more efficient healthcare provision and increased communication between healthcare providers, which in turn will lead to significantly improved patient care.
Although I have only picked out a number of various examples from the history of technology in healthcare, it is blatantly obvious that technology has benefited the healthcare sector and that technology has been the driving force behind most medical advances to date, and who knows, the next major advance in healthcare could be made possible all because of you!