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What Is Scientific Medicine?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Scientific medicine refers to a type of medicine that developed over the last few centuries and became what we now know as conventional medicine from the 19th century onward. Modern medicine, as it is also called, depends on scientific observations for treatment and understanding of the human body. Discovery of germ theory and the infectious causes of disease was an important breakthrough for scientific medicine. Prior to the establishment of scientific medicine, a variety of approaches to medicine were in vogue, like bleeding and purging, but with the advent of evidence-based treatments, these fell out of favor. Central to scientific medicine was education and qualification of doctors to the scientific standard.

Technological advances in the field of medicine in the 19th century contributed greatly to the understanding of disease in the human body. Microscopes allowed scientists to identify and describe cells, and figure out which cells were abnormal in disease. Equipment that is still being used today in some form, such as stethoscopes and X-ray machines, were invented. Pharmacology, the study and production of medicines, became more commercially viable than before due to new chemical synthesis and refinement processes during the Industrial Revolution.

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Laboratory techniques, such as microscopic analysis and chemical tests of substances like urine also became useful for doctors during this time. Physiology, which is the study of how the body works, also aided this process. Germ theory, which acknowledged the microscopic organisms that caused infectious disease, is another important part of the scientific medical approach. Doctors also became more interested in experimental medicine, and documented their attempts and the result for other medical professionals.

A system of checking the effectiveness of a particular treatment, called the numerical method, also developed during the 19th century. Results of specific treatments could be analyzed through statistics, and a doctor could then see whether a treatment was useful, useless or dangerous. This method of checking the evidence, which is essential to modern clinical research, meant that previously common treatment options such as blood-letting were discarded and replaced with treatments that a doctor could demonstrate effectiveness for.

Even though these progresses toward scientific medicine were ongoing during the 19th century, no single educational qualification existed in individual countries which could produce doctors who worked according to evidence-based medicine. Professional organizations of doctors who believed in scientific medicine over other types of medicine lobbied for people who practiced as doctors to have a qualification. Governmental authorities in countries who subscribed to the scientific method created medical licensing boards, and gave approval only to those educational institutions who could provide the necessary standard of education and examination to students.

Standardization meant that people who practiced a less rigorously evidence-based medicine were unable to call themselves doctors or practice as doctors. In modern times, scientific medicine is also known as conventional medicine. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) healthcare industries do not necessarily use the same rules as the scientific method, and may not have the same evidence-based approach to medicine.

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