The Greatest Health Advances that Changed our Lives in the Past Century: Part 2

Monday, April 30, 2012

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

In the last century, major changes in health care and technology, as well as simple progress in such innocuous conveniences such as public water fountains, have dramatically improved the quality of life. These have increased the average life expectancy in the United States from 47 years in 1900 to 78 years in 2011 almost doubling life expectancies. Health advances achieved throughout the 20th century and into the 21st are a result of investments and improvements in scientific, technical, legal, and political resources for the purpose of improving living conditions.

This blog is the second in a series of four in which I will discuss these. The first part of the series can be found here.

Following is the next part of a list of seventeen of the most important achievements in health care and quality of life.  It should serve as a reminder of how health innovations and common science have improved the comfort and longevity of our lives.

7.  Cardiac Care.
Although heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in the United States, numerous advances in its treatment have made a considerable impact in extending and improving lives. 
Improvements in medical care that have contributed to a better understanding of how to treat heart disease include:

  • Advances in diagnosing and treating heart disease
  • Development of effective medications for treatment of hypertension and hypercholesterolemia
  • More specialists and health care providers focusing on heart disease
  • An increase in emergency medical services for heart attacks
  • Improved surgical procedures (heart-lung bypass, coronary artery bypass grafting, etc.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these developments have resulted in lower fatality rates, lengthened survival times, and shorter hospital stays for patients who suffer from heart disease.

8.  Organ Transplants.
With the first successful organ transplant operation in 1954, surgeons were introduced to one of the most technically complex procedures, as it involves both surgery and immunology.
In the first successful transplant, a kidney was removed from one donor and installed in the body of his identical twin. More organ transplant procedures soon followed, including the first liver transplant in 1967 and the first heart transplant in 1968. 
Although organ transplants have saved many lives, these surgeries have also raised many ethical questions. With close to 100,000 people currently waiting for a transplant in the United States, physicians must carefully weigh the options for each donor organ.

9.  Randomized Controlled Trials.
The adoption of randomized controlled trials allowed medical researchers new insight in determining which treatments work, and which do not. In randomized controlled trials, patients are divided into two groups. One group receives the treatment to be studied while the other does not.

By studying the differences between groups in these types of trials, medical research has changed into a culture of evidence-based medicine that continues to guide clinical practice. Furthermore, this method has changed the way  cancer and other diseases are treated and will continue to impact the future of medical research.

10.  Radiologic Imaging.
Without radiologic imaging technologies, like X-rays, doctors were previously limited to looking only for external signs of injury.

In the late 1800s a German physicist, began the initial work surrounding the discovery of X-rays. Although viewed as an invasion of privacy in its early days, X-ray technology's life saving powers were soon realized. More imaging technologies eventually followed, including the CT scan in the 1970s.

With internal imaging, doctors can now look inside the body to determine the cause or presence of disease. This has changed the way medicine is practiced in all stages - detection, diagnosis, and treatment.

Sources Include:

Brayer, Toni. "Top 10 Greatest Public Health Achievements of this Century." MyLifeStages. (May 26, 2011). From

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the 20th Century." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Aug. 20, 2008). From

Childs, Dan and Susan Kansagra. "10 Health Advances That Changed the World." ABC News. (Sept. 20, 2007). From

Elliot, Jason. "What You Should Know About Drinking from a Public Water Fountain." Yahoo! Voices. (March 21, 2007). From

Stibich, Mark. "Top Life Expectancy Achievements." (Sept. 29, 2009). From

Wight, David. "A Pound of Cure." The Costco Connection. (April 2012).

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Tag words:  public health, health innovations, health achievements, health care advances, centers for disease control and prevention, vaccines, health improvements, workplace safety, motor vehicle safety, heart disease prevention, tobacco education, radiology, radiologic imaging, organ transplants, antibiotics, anesthetic, antiseptic, motor-vehicle safety


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