Medical treatment refers to the management and care of a patient for the purpose of combating disease, injury or disorder. It includes both diagnostic and therapeutic treatments, as well as a range of supportive services. Treatments may be physical, chemical or biological in nature, and they can include medications, surgery, diet, exercise and counseling. A broad range of clinical disciplines make up the field of medicine, including pathology (the study of disease), pharmacology (the science of drugs) and aeromedical sciences (aircraft and space travel).
In many countries, medical treatment is provided by a system of highly specialized and trained professionals. A doctor may specialize in one or more areas, and each area is further subdivided into a number of specialties, such as internal medicine, urology, gastroenterology and paediatrics. Most specialties have their own professional body or college, and some administer their own entrance examination. The development of new specialties is often driven by advances in technology, for example the use of effective anaesthetics, or ways of working, such as the development of emergency departments.
The practice of medical treatment has evolved over the centuries to become increasingly scientific. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates laid the foundation for modern medicine with his Hippocratic Oath for physicians and his scientific approach to disease, based on cause, effect and interaction. He discarded the herbalism and “four humours” of traditional Western medicine and was the first to categorize illnesses into acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic diseases.
Since the mid-20th century, medicine has been increasingly influenced by the natural sciences, such as molecular biology and genetics. Molecular biology has enabled the creation of targeted medicines that are designed to work with the body, and genetics has led to the identification of causative genes for most monogenic disease. In addition, the application of engineering to medical problems has resulted in the design of new devices and instruments that have improved the effectiveness and ease of use of medical procedures.
A significant issue with the provision of medical treatment is non-adherence, which is a major obstacle to improving health outcomes. Non-adherence leads to poorer quality of life and higher health care costs. Many researchers have studied this phenomenon, but attempts to improve adherence seem to be largely ineffective.
In the future, medical treatment is likely to be even more complex than it is now. A major challenge is how to deliver care that is organized around patients rather than services, locations and time. This is known as the “patient-centered medical home”. It involves a team of providers, whose interactions are coordinated through a single medical record that contains physician notes, images and other information related to patients’ condition, diagnosis, treatment and outcome. Terminology and data fields are standardized across the system so that all parties can communicate effectively. This will enable patients to receive the best possible care and experience. Achieving this will require a major transformation in the way that healthcare is delivered.