The Care of Strangers: Short intro to Chapter 3 ~ The new age of Institutional care in early 20th century

by faithgibson on May 16, 2013

Economic Story of American Hospitals: Intro to Chapter Three

In contrast to previous centuries, the scrupulous washing of one’s hands finally became the hallmark of a scientifically-trained professional. From a public health standpoint, hand-washing was a gift to humankind like pasteurization — a hugely important scientific advancement at the most fundamental level.

As a principle (instead of a patented technology), it could be used freely by all without the need to purchase or maintain expensive equipment. Hand-washing was something anyone could understand and use to the betterment of the human condition. Until Pasteur was able to prove the connection between a specific strain of bacteria and childbed fever in 1881, many in the medical profession had refused to take the simple precautions like hand-washing and aseptic technique seriously.

Without the germ theory and the body of knowledge it generated, most of the extraordinary advances in the world of scientific medicine would have been impossible or greatly hampered. Standing on the firm foundation of microbiology and bacteriology, other scientific disciplines — anatomy, biology, chemistry, immunology, physics, and physiology – were able to make their unique contributions to the practice of medicine, including the rise of modern obstetrics as surgical discipline. Practical application of these wonderful advances were translated into diagnostic tests, medical treatments and surgical procedures, which never could have been safely to offered to patients were it not the use of aseptic principles, and sterile technique. Over the course of the 20th century, many cures for previously chronic, disabling or deadly diseases have been discovered.

The New Age of Institutional Care

These wonderful new abilities were soon joined by the development of x-ray machines that could be used to actually see into the human body, helping to redefine the potential for ‘modern’ medicine to treat and often cure disease.  Yes, Houston, the Eagle has landed bringing us a bright new future for humanity made possible by the science-based practice of medicine. Hospital of the early 20th century were eager to take advantage of all these new ideas by purchasing and using the new scientific equipment that made it all possible – microscopes, sterilizers, autoclaves, x-ray machines and much more. When Pasteur’s breakthrough in bacteriology, was combined with the German professor Wilhelm Roentgen’s x-ray machine, the ability of the emerging practice of scientific medicine to diagnose disease and better treat injuries was greatly and immediately expanded.

These two scientific discoveries kicked medical care into a whole new realm of effectiveness with new laboratory tests could identify a specific strain of bacteria, while x-ray examinations could diagnosis with a high degree of certainty by pinpointing the problem from a picture of what was going on inside the patient’s body. By 1910, every hospital was eager to have at least one of each of the new — but vital — pieces of medical equipment and take their place in this brave new world of safe and therapeutically effective medical care.

Patients and professionals alike were happy to turn the corner on the bad old days and bad old ways and march forward into this brave new world. The future of medical care in the US could not have It certainly looked more promising.

Section three – The Great Mismatch between what a hospital could offer and what and a patient could afford to pay for, new customers, and the birth of ‘elective’ hospitalization