A medical treatment is any action taken to treat illness, disease or injury. It includes procedures that are preventive in nature as well, such as a tetanus or flu shot. It also includes first aid – care to relieve pain or prevent further injury, such as applying a bandage to a wound or putting antiseptic ointment on a cut.
Treatments may involve drugs, physical therapy, counseling, surgery and other methods. Doctors use scientific evidence of the benefits of a treatment to decide what medical treatment is best for their patients. This evidence is usually gathered through clinical trials comparing groups of people who receive the treatment against groups that don’t. The treatment with the most benefit is selected as the standard of care for patients with that condition.
The effectiveness of a medical treatment is usually determined through randomized clinical trials – studies that compare the outcomes of a group of patients who receive the treatment with a group who don’t. These trials can measure the effectiveness of a treatment by looking at things such as how much less likely it is to have a bad outcome, such as death or stroke.
Many of the treatments used in medicine are complex and have a wide variety of effects on the body. This complexity makes it difficult to know if the treatment will work for a particular person. Despite the complexity of a treatment, doctors try to use it with the highest possible probability of success.
A number of treatments are used for both diagnosis and treatment at the same time, called diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. For example, a doctor may perform an endoscopic procedure – inserting a slender tube (endoscope) into the body — to both make a diagnosis and remove a small sample of tissue for analysis in a laboratory.
Some treatments are used primarily to help the patient cope with a health problem, rather than to cure it. Examples of these are psychiatric care to treat mental disorders and palliative care for terminal diseases such as cancer. This type of treatment is sometimes referred to as paracurative care.
It is important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of medical treatment with your doctor. You also should ask for a second opinion if you’re not sure about what kind of treatment you need. Lastly, it’s a good idea to talk with your family and friends about what you want to happen in the event that you become unable to make decisions for yourself. You can even write an advance directive to tell your family or doctor what you would like your medical treatment to be.
In 2022, a new Gallup survey found that the percentage of Americans who say they or someone in their household has put off getting needed medical treatment because of cost rose to its highest level ever. Young adults, those in lower-income households and women are particularly likely to report putting off care because of cost.