Top Medical Technology Advances From the Last 100 Years

The world of healthcare was a very different place 100 years ago. Thanks to innovators who focused their talents on helping people live healthier lives and live with disabilities, the last century has seen revolutionary medical technology advances that have contributed to the quality of care and better outcomes of today.

Here’s a look back at the medical technology advances that have taken place since the early 1900s.

A photo from 1963 showing the equipment developed to measure EEG in space.
Source: Computer History Museum via BrainClinics

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1924: The Electroencephalogram

Hans Berger recorded the first human electroencephalogram (EEG), charting electrical activity of his son’s brain. He also invented the first electroencephalogram device.

1928: The Iron Lung

The negative pressure ventilator, or iron lung, was a mechanical respirator. Although there were prior prototypes, the Drinker respirator, which was first used in 1928 to treat a girl with polio, went into production after her recovery. Negative pressure ventilation has been replaced almost completely by positive pressure ventilation through an endotracheal or tracheostomy tube. Sure, now it’s virtually obsolete, but during its heyday, the iron lung saved lives. It’s also a good reminder that continued innovation is an integral part of MedTech.

1931: Minimally Invasive Surgery

The first minimally invasive surgery involved using a cystoscope to treat bladder lesions. Other techniques followed, such as a balloon embolectomy catheter for removing blood clots.

1936: The Pacemaker

Researchers had applied electrical impulses to stimulate the heart for a number of years, but in 1932, Dr. Albert Hyman devised a spring-wound, hand-cranked electro-mechanical instrument he called the “artificial pacemaker.” In 1958, the first patient received an implantable pacemaker.

Willem Kolff (left) with his ‘kidney boys’ team and a dialysis unit built from a washing machine.
Source: Willem Kolff Stichting via Telegraph

1943: Dialysis

Dr. Willem Johan Kolff is credited with the first working dialyzer. He constructed it during Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, when resources were scarce, building it from beverage cans, washing machine parts, and other available materials. Another important lesson here: when there’s a will…

1944: The Disposable Catheter

David S. Sheridan, who Forbes magazine called the “Catheter King,” invented the modern disposable catheter, as well as the disposable plastic endotracheal tube. Simple as far as medical technology advances go? Maybe. But prior to his invention, tubes were sterilized and reused, creating a high infection risk. He solved a problem and saved countless lives.

1947: Cardiac Defibrillation

A 14-year-old boy’s heart stopped during surgery, and Dr. Claude Beck at the University Hospital of Cleveland ordered his research unit that he had used to delivery AC to the exposed hearts of animals be brought up to save him. The unit had two metal tablespoons attached to wooden handles to deliver the shock. In 1965, Frank Pantridge installed the first portable defibrillator — weighing 150 pounds and powered by car batteries — in an ambulance in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

1952: Magnetic Resonance

The Nobel Prize in Physics that year went to Felix Bloch and Edward Mills Purcell for developing nuclear magnetic resonance. The first MRI exam on a patient took place in 1977, beginning an era of non-invasive diagnosis.

First version of the oxygenator, used by John H. Gibbon during first successful human-heart surgery in 1953.
Source: Texas Heart Institute Journal via Wired

1953: The Heart-Lung Bypass Machine

Heart-lung bypass, supporting a patient’s heart and lung functions during open-heart surgery, was invented by Dr. John Heysham Gibbon, and used successfully for the first time in 1953.

1953: Cochlear Prosthesis

1953 also marked the first cochlear prosthesis, which stimulated the cochlear nerve to facilitate hearing. Innovator André Djourno also performed the first cochlear implantation in 1957.

1958: Fetal Ultrasound

​Although Doppler ultrasound had been used in a variety of applications prior, in 1958, Dr. Edward H. Hon of Yale used it to detect a fetal heartbeat. It has since become a standard in prenatal care. (Sending results to bakeries for pink or blue icing inside cakes falls much later on the timeline.)

1963: The Insulin Pump

Insulin pumps, which eliminate the need for multiple insulin injections each day and make controlling blood glucose levels more possible, were invented by Dr. Arnold Kadish. In 1973, Dean Kamen (also inventor of the Segway) invented the first wearable infusion pump.

The first clinical CT scan, taken Oct. 1972.
Source: Atkinson Morley’s Hospital via ImPACT

1971: CT Scanner

Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield is credited with developing the first commercial CT scanner. The first CT scan occurred in London, on a patient suspected of having a frontal lobe tumor. The surgeon who operated on the patient remarked, “It looks exactly like the picture.”

1982: First Successful Implantation of an Artificial Heart

Dr. William DeVries implanted the Jarvik 7, named after the device’s inventor, Dr. Robert Jarvik, giving Dr. Barney Clark the first permanent artificial heart. Today, artificial implants are used as a bridge until a heart is secured for transplant.

1987: Robots & Lasers

​This was the year science fiction seemed to meet healthcare when robots became part of laparoscopic surgery procedure and lasers were used to correct vision.

The Edinburg Modular Arm System, the first bionic limb, worn by Campbell Aird.
Source: National Museums Scotland

1993: First Bionic Limb

A patient with muscular cancer received the “Edinburgh Modular Arm System,” the first bionic limb. The patient wore a cap that contained micro-sensors which detected brain impulses sent to his missing limb and used them to control the arm. Today, computer chips sync joints to Bluetooth devices that coordinate movement.

2004: The Adaptive Artificial Knee

Prosthetics had been around for years, but in 2004, the Ossur Corporation produced a microprocessor controlled knee that adapts to terrain and permits activities such as cycling, walk-to-run, and climbing stairs.

2013: 3D-Printed Body Parts

​3D printing technology has enabled researchers to print body parts, not just with synthetic materials, but using bioprinting, growing cells from a patient’s stem cells to, for example, print skin to encourage faster burn or wound healing.

Stay Tuned for Future Developments

In 2018, there are a variety of exciting medical technology advancements emerging, including new nanotherapies, digital diagnostic tools, and wireless monitoring devices. In addition, Internet of Things (IoT) applications can connect devices to an intelligent network and the people vital to a patient’s care, blockchain technology could ensure secure transmission of EMR data, and artificial intelligence (AI) can help monitor patients’ conditions.

And that’s just what’s in the foreseeable future. It’s exciting to think what the next 100 years will bring, especially as the world of healthcare and MedTech advancements become increasingly data-driven!

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