Medical is a term that refers to the treatment and prevention of illness and injury. If you get a cut, medical professionals apply a plaster; if your eyes are blurry, you may be given some glasses. The word comes from the Latin mederi, meaning to heal or to restore health. Medical professionals use medicines, vaccines and devices to keep people healthy, or to treat illnesses, such as strep throat, that affect their physical health.
Medicine is a broad field, and there are many subfields, each with their own specialized knowledge and skills. For example, anatomists study the physical structure of living things. Biochemists are concerned with the chemistry that takes place inside living things, while biomechanics focuses on the mechanical aspects of biological systems. Embryologists study the formation, early growth and development of organisms. Medical physics and biostatistics both apply physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology to the study of living things.
Most of the branches of medicine have their own professional bodies or colleges that control entry to the profession. These often require an examination before a doctor can practice there. There are also some non-clinical disciplines, such as epidemiology, that apply the principles of statistics to the study of disease patterns.
The medical sciences have developed rapidly over the past century or so. Scientific, empirical methods have replaced the earlier belief that what had been observed and reported by a respected authority was the only true explanation. For example, the discoveries by Edward Jenner and Robert Koch of the smallpox vaccine and antibiotics respectively marked the beginning of modern scientific biomedical research. This revolution was accelerated by the rapid growth of scientific and technological progress in the industrialised world.
In clinical medicine, a visit to the doctor is usually documented in the medical record. The information in the record is used for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. The patient’s chief complaint – the reason for the present medical encounter – is recorded, along with details of any previous visits and family history.
A specialised branch of clinical medicine is palliative care, which aims to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for patients with terminal diseases. Another relatively new area is telemedicine, which uses modern communication technology to deliver healthcare remotely. This is especially important for developing countries, where access to doctors is often limited.