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Medicine

Field of study for diagnosing, treating and preventing disease

Top 10 Medicine related articles

Medicine
Statue of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, holding the symbolic Rod of Asclepius with its coiled serpent
SpecialistMedical specialty
GlossaryGlossary of medicine

Medicine is the art,[1] science,[2] and practice[3] of caring for a patient and managing the diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, treatment or palliation of their injury or disease. Medicine encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness. Contemporary medicine applies biomedical sciences, biomedical research, genetics, and medical technology to diagnose, treat, and prevent injury and disease, typically through pharmaceuticals or surgery, but also through therapies as diverse as psychotherapy, external splints and traction, medical devices, biologics, and ionizing radiation, amongst others.[4]

Medicine has been practiced since prehistoric times, during most of which it was an art (an area of skill and knowledge) frequently having connections to the religious and philosophical beliefs of local culture. For example, a medicine man would apply herbs and say prayers for healing, or an ancient philosopher and physician would apply bloodletting according to the theories of humorism. In recent centuries, since the advent of modern science, most medicine has become a combination of art and science (both basic and applied, under the umbrella of medical science). While stitching technique for sutures is an art learned through practice, the knowledge of what happens at the cellular and molecular level in the tissues being stitched arises through science.

Prescientific forms of medicine are now known as traditional medicine and folk medicine. They remain commonly used with, or instead of, scientific medicine and are thus called alternative medicine. As an example, evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture is "variable and inconsistent" for any condition,[5] but is generally safe when done by an appropriately trained practitioner.[6] In contrast, alternative treatments outside the bounds not just of scientific medicine, but also that of safety and efficacy are termed quackery. This can encompass an array of practices and practitioners, irrespective of whether they are prescientific (traditional medicine and folk medicine) or modern pseudo-scientific, including chiropractic which rejects modern scientific germ theory of disease (instead believing without evidence that human diseases are caused by invisible subluxation of the bones, predominantly of the spine and less so of other bones), with just over half of chiropractors also rejecting the science of immunization.

Medicine Intro articles: 41

Etymology

Medicine (UK: /ˈmɛdsɪn/ ( listen), US: /ˈmɛdɪsɪn/ ( listen)) is the science and practice of the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.[7][8] The word "medicine" is derived from Latin medicus, meaning "a physician".[9][10]

Medicine Etymology articles: 3

Clinical practice

The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes (1891)

Medical availability and clinical practice varies across the world due to regional differences in culture and technology. Modern scientific medicine is highly developed in the Western world, while in developing countries such as parts of Africa or Asia, the population may rely more heavily on traditional medicine with limited evidence and efficacy and no required formal training for practitioners.[11]

In the developed world, evidence-based medicine is not universally used in clinical practice; for example, a 2007 survey of literature reviews found that about 49% of the interventions lacked sufficient evidence to support either benefit or harm.[12]

In modern clinical practice, physicians and physician assistants personally assess patients in order to diagnose, prognose, treat, and prevent disease using clinical judgment. The doctor-patient relationship typically begins an interaction with an examination of the patient's medical history and medical record, followed by a medical interview[13] and a physical examination. Basic diagnostic medical devices (e.g. stethoscope, tongue depressor) are typically used. After examination for signs and interviewing for symptoms, the doctor may order medical tests (e.g. blood tests), take a biopsy, or prescribe pharmaceutical drugs or other therapies. Differential diagnosis methods help to rule out conditions based on the information provided. During the encounter, properly informing the patient of all relevant facts is an important part of the relationship and the development of trust. The medical encounter is then documented in the medical record, which is a legal document in many jurisdictions.[14] Follow-ups may be shorter but follow the same general procedure, and specialists follow a similar process. The diagnosis and treatment may take only a few minutes or a few weeks depending upon the complexity of the issue.

The components of the medical interview[13] and encounter are:

  • Chief complaint (CC): the reason for the current medical visit. These are the 'symptoms.' They are in the patient's own words and are recorded along with the duration of each one. Also called 'chief concern' or 'presenting complaint'.
  • History of present illness (HPI): the chronological order of events of symptoms and further clarification of each symptom. Distinguishable from history of previous illness, often called past medical history (PMH). Medical history comprises HPI and PMH.
  • Current activity: occupation, hobbies, what the patient actually does.
  • Medications (Rx): what drugs the patient takes including prescribed, over-the-counter, and home remedies, as well as alternative and herbal medicines/herbal remedies. Allergies are also recorded.
  • Past medical history (PMH/PMHx): concurrent medical problems, past hospitalizations and operations, injuries, past infectious diseases or vaccinations, history of known allergies.
  • Social history (SH): birthplace, residences, marital history, social and economic status, habits (including diet, medications, tobacco, alcohol).
  • Family history (FH): listing of diseases in the family that may impact the patient. A family tree is sometimes used.
  • Review of systems (ROS) or systems inquiry: a set of additional questions to ask, which may be missed on HPI: a general enquiry (have you noticed any weight loss, change in sleep quality, fevers, lumps and bumps? etc.), followed by questions on the body's main organ systems (heart, lungs, digestive tract, urinary tract, etc.).

The physical examination is the examination of the patient for medical signs of disease, which are objective and observable, in contrast to symptoms that are volunteered by the patient and not necessarily objectively observable.[15] The healthcare provider uses sight, hearing, touch, and sometimes smell (e.g., in infection, uremia, diabetic ketoacidosis). Four actions are the basis of physical examination: inspection, palpation (feel), percussion (tap to determine resonance characteristics), and auscultation (listen), generally in that order although auscultation occurs prior to percussion and palpation for abdominal assessments.[16]

The clinical examination involves the study of:[17]

It is to likely focus on areas of interest highlighted in the medical history and may not include everything listed above.

The treatment plan may include ordering additional medical laboratory tests and medical imaging studies, starting therapy, referral to a specialist, or watchful observation. Follow-up may be advised. Depending upon the health insurance plan and the managed care system, various forms of "utilization review", such as prior authorization of tests, may place barriers on accessing expensive services.[21]

The medical decision-making (MDM) process involves analysis and synthesis of all the above data to come up with a list of possible diagnoses (the differential diagnoses), along with an idea of what needs to be done to obtain a definitive diagnosis that would explain the patient's problem.

On subsequent visits, the process may be repeated in an abbreviated manner to obtain any new history, symptoms, physical findings, and lab or imaging results or specialist consultations.

Medicine Clinical practice articles: 69

Institutions

The Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, fresco by Domenico di Bartolo, 1441–1442

Contemporary medicine is in general conducted within health care systems. Legal, credentialing and financing frameworks are established by individual governments, augmented on occasion by international organizations, such as churches. The characteristics of any given health care system have significant impact on the way medical care is provided.

From ancient times, Christian emphasis on practical charity gave rise to the development of systematic nursing and hospitals and the Catholic Church today remains the largest non-government provider of medical services in the world.[22] Advanced industrial countries (with the exception of the United States)[23][24] and many developing countries provide medical services through a system of universal health care that aims to guarantee care for all through a single-payer health care system, or compulsory private or co-operative health insurance. This is intended to ensure that the entire population has access to medical care on the basis of need rather than ability to pay. Delivery may be via private medical practices or by state-owned hospitals and clinics, or by charities, most commonly by a combination of all three.

Most tribal societies provide no guarantee of healthcare for the population as a whole. In such societies, healthcare is available to those that can afford to pay for it or have self-insured it (either directly or as part of an employment contract) or who may be covered by care financed by the government or tribe directly.

Modern drug ampoules

Transparency of information is another factor defining a delivery system. Access to information on conditions, treatments, quality, and pricing greatly affects the choice by patients/consumers and, therefore, the incentives of medical professionals. While the US healthcare system has come under fire for lack of openness,[25] new legislation may encourage greater openness. There is a perceived tension between the need for transparency on the one hand and such issues as patient confidentiality and the possible exploitation of information for commercial gain on the other.

Delivery

Provision of medical care is classified into primary, secondary, and tertiary care categories.[26]

Primary care medical services are provided by physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or other health professionals who have first contact with a patient seeking medical treatment or care.[27] These occur in physician offices, clinics, nursing homes, schools, home visits, and other places close to patients. About 90% of medical visits can be treated by the primary care provider. These include treatment of acute and chronic illnesses, preventive care and health education for all ages and both sexes.

Secondary care medical services are provided by medical specialists in their offices or clinics or at local community hospitals for a patient referred by a primary care provider who first diagnosed or treated the patient.[28] Referrals are made for those patients who required the expertise or procedures performed by specialists. These include both ambulatory care and inpatient services, Emergency departments, intensive care medicine, surgery services, physical therapy, labor and delivery, endoscopy units, diagnostic laboratory and medical imaging services, hospice centers, etc. Some primary care providers may also take care of hospitalized patients and deliver babies in a secondary care setting.

Tertiary care medical services are provided by specialist hospitals or regional centers equipped with diagnostic and treatment facilities not generally available at local hospitals. These include trauma centers, burn treatment centers, advanced neonatology unit services, organ transplants, high-risk pregnancy, radiation oncology, etc.

Modern medical care also depends on information – still delivered in many health care settings on paper records, but increasingly nowadays by electronic means.

In low-income countries, modern healthcare is often too expensive for the average person. International healthcare policy researchers have advocated that "user fees" be removed in these areas to ensure access, although even after removal, significant costs and barriers remain.[29]

Separation of prescribing and dispensing is a practice in medicine and pharmacy in which the physician who provides a medical prescription is independent from the pharmacist who provides the prescription drug. In the Western world there are centuries of tradition for separating pharmacists from physicians. In Asian countries, it is traditional for physicians to also provide drugs.[30]

Medicine Institutions articles: 41

Branches

Drawing by Marguerite Martyn (1918) of a visiting nurse in St. Louis, Missouri, with medicine and babies

Working together as an interdisciplinary team, many highly trained health professionals besides medical practitioners are involved in the delivery of modern health care. Examples include: nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, laboratory scientists, pharmacists, podiatrists, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, radiographers, dietitians, and bioengineers, medical physics, surgeons, surgeon's assistant, surgical technologist.

The scope and sciences underpinning human medicine overlap many other fields. Dentistry, while considered by some a separate discipline from medicine, is a medical field.

A patient admitted to the hospital is usually under the care of a specific team based on their main presenting problem, e.g., the cardiology team, who then may interact with other specialties, e.g., surgical, radiology, to help diagnose or treat the main problem or any subsequent complications/developments.

Physicians have many specializations and subspecializations into certain branches of medicine, which are listed below. There are variations from country to country regarding which specialties certain subspecialties are in.

The main branches of medicine are:

Basic sciences

  • Anatomy is the study of the physical structure of organisms. In contrast to macroscopic or gross anatomy, cytology and histology are concerned with microscopic structures.
  • Biochemistry is the study of the chemistry taking place in living organisms, especially the structure and function of their chemical components.
  • Biomechanics is the study of the structure and function of biological systems by means of the methods of Mechanics.
  • Biostatistics is the application of statistics to biological fields in the broadest sense. A knowledge of biostatistics is essential in the planning, evaluation, and interpretation of medical research. It is also fundamental to epidemiology and evidence-based medicine.
  • Biophysics is an interdisciplinary science that uses the methods of physics and physical chemistry to study biological systems.
  • Cytology is the microscopic study of individual cells.
Louis Pasteur, as portrayed in his laboratory, 1885 by Albert Edelfelt

Specialties

In the broadest meaning of "medicine", there are many different specialties. In the UK, most specialities have their own body or college, which has its own entrance examination. These are collectively known as the Royal Colleges, although not all currently use the term "Royal". The development of a speciality is often driven by new technology (such as the development of effective anaesthetics) or ways of working (such as emergency departments); the new specialty leads to the formation of a unifying body of doctors and the prestige of administering their own examination.

Within medical circles, specialities usually fit into one of two broad categories: "Medicine" and "Surgery." "Medicine" refers to the practice of non-operative medicine, and most of its subspecialties require preliminary training in Internal Medicine. In the UK, this was traditionally evidenced by passing the examination for the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) or the equivalent college in Scotland or Ireland. "Surgery" refers to the practice of operative medicine, and most subspecialties in this area require preliminary training in General Surgery, which in the UK leads to membership of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (MRCS). At present, some specialties of medicine do not fit easily into either of these categories, such as radiology, pathology, or anesthesia. Most of these have branched from one or other of the two camps above; for example anaesthesia developed first as a faculty of the Royal College of Surgeons (for which MRCS/FRCS would have been required) before becoming the Royal College of Anaesthetists and membership of the college is attained by sitting for the examination of the Fellowship of the Royal College of Anesthetists (FRCA).

Surgical specialty

Surgeons in an operating room

Surgery is an ancient medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a patient to investigate or treat a pathological condition such as disease or injury, to help improve bodily function or appearance or to repair unwanted ruptured areas (for example, a perforated ear drum). Surgeons must also manage pre-operative, post-operative, and potential surgical candidates on the hospital wards. Surgery has many sub-specialties, including general surgery,[31] ophthalmic surgery,[32] cardiovascular surgery, colorectal surgery,[33] neurosurgery,[34] oral and maxillofacial surgery,[35] oncologic surgery,[36] orthopedic surgery,[37] otolaryngology,[38] plastic surgery,[39] podiatric surgery, transplant surgery, trauma surgery,[40] urology,[41] vascular surgery,[42] and pediatric surgery[43]. In some centers, anesthesiology is part of the division of surgery (for historical and logistical reasons), although it is not a surgical discipline. Other medical specialties may employ surgical procedures, such as ophthalmology and dermatology, but are not considered surgical sub-specialties per se.

Surgical training in the U.S. requires a minimum of five years of residency after medical school. Sub-specialties of surgery often require seven or more years. In addition, fellowships can last an additional one to three years. Because post-residency fellowships can be competitive, many trainees devote two additional years to research. Thus in some cases surgical training will not finish until more than a decade after medical school. Furthermore, surgical training can be very difficult and time-consuming.

Internal medicine specialty

Internal medicine is the medical specialty dealing with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of adult diseases.[44] According to some sources, an emphasis on internal structures is implied.[45] In North America, specialists in internal medicine are commonly called "internists." Elsewhere, especially in Commonwealth nations, such specialists are often called physicians.[46] These terms, internist or physician (in the narrow sense, common outside North America), generally exclude practitioners of gynecology and obstetrics, pathology, psychiatry, and especially surgery and its subspecialities.

Because their patients are often seriously ill or require complex investigations, internists do much of their work in hospitals. Formerly, many internists were not subspecialized; such general physicians would see any complex nonsurgical problem; this style of practice has become much less common. In modern urban practice, most internists are subspecialists: that is, they generally limit their medical practice to problems of one organ system or to one particular area of medical knowledge. For example, gastroenterologists and nephrologists specialize respectively in diseases of the gut and the kidneys.[47]

In the Commonwealth of Nations and some other countries, specialist pediatricians and geriatricians are also described as specialist physicians (or internists) who have subspecialized by age of patient rather than by organ system. Elsewhere, especially in North America, general pediatrics is often a form of primary care.

There are many subspecialities (or subdisciplines) of internal medicine:

Training in internal medicine (as opposed to surgical training), varies considerably across the world: see the articles on medical education and physician for more details. In North America, it requires at least three years of residency training after medical school, which can then be followed by a one- to three-year fellowship in the subspecialties listed above. In general, resident work hours in medicine are less than those in surgery, averaging about 60 hours per week in the US. This difference does not apply in the UK where all doctors are now required by law to work less than 48 hours per week on average.

Diagnostic specialties

Other major specialties

The following are some major medical specialties that do not directly fit into any of the above-mentioned groups:

  • Anesthesiology (also known as anaesthetics): concerned with the perioperative management of the surgical patient. The anesthesiologist's role during surgery is to prevent derangement in the vital organs' (i.e. brain, heart, kidneys) functions and postoperative pain. Outside of the operating room, the anesthesiology physician also serves the same function in the labor and delivery ward, and some are specialized in critical medicine.
  • Dermatology is concerned with the skin and its diseases. In the UK, dermatology is a subspecialty of general medicine.
  • Emergency medicine is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of acute or life-threatening conditions, including trauma, surgical, medical, pediatric, and psychiatric emergencies.
  • Family medicine, family practice, general practice or primary care is, in many countries, the first port-of-call for patients with non-emergency medical problems. Family physicians often provide services across a broad range of settings including office based practices, emergency department coverage, inpatient care, and nursing home care.
Gynecologist Michel Akotionga of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Interdisciplinary fields

Some interdisciplinary sub-specialties of medicine include:

Medicine Branches articles: 232