Museum of Medicine
School of Medicine, University of Crete

Areas of Interest / Medical Instruments - Technology

Medical-Surgical Instruments

"Medical Instruments must all be easy to use both in terms of weight and in terms of their delicate construction" (Hippocrates, "About the Physician")

This principle as summarized in the Hippocratic Collection continues to govern the manufacture of medical and surgical tools to this day. An unmistakable witness to this is the simple comparison of the morphology and the related ergonomics of the ancient with the modern medical tools. Typical examples in the chronology of medical technology are scalpels or chisels, probes (for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes), cranio-drillers, metal tubes that served as cyst catheters, forceps and cauters (hot tubs) designed by the human mind and crafted by human hands from Minoan to Roman times. Afterwards, and especially during the period of early Christian times (4th – 7th century) the phlebotomes are added (with several uses, but mainly for subtle operations), the spathion (a surgical knife for removing uterine tumors), the blind hook (wall hook), the lithotomon (a special forcep for grasping kidney stones), the paracentesis (cataract surgeries), the polypikon (nose multi-incisions). The evolution of instruments in the centuries that follow is extremely slow, as a religious medicine was established within the Byzantine Empire, with a possible exception the introduction of medical instruments of the particularly important Arab Medicine in the 9th and 10th centuries.

Medical tools of antiquity are made of copper, iron or metal alloys, while their decoration is related to both functional and aesthetic purposes. It is inevitable that time wears out these artifacts, but it also transforms them from objects of common – albeit limited – use to monuments of human civilization. This value is brilliantly described by Umberto Eco in the foreword to an 800th anniversary edition of the founding of the Bologna School of Medicine (the world's first Medical School) as follows: The form of a surgical tool helps us understand a culture and a time as much as the outcome of a battle, the history of papistry or an emperor’s signature. This is another reason to classify the history of medicine in the most emphatic way within the context of the history of culture.

Medical Technology

The term medical technology denotes the use of technological products for the purpose of diagnosing, monitoring and treating any disease or disorder of the human body. Its first steps were made after the industrial revolution towards the end of the 19thcentury, while during the 20th century there was a surprising progress. At the same time, the rapid progress in computer science and technology gave a huge boost to the development of medical technology that in recent years could be described as explosive. Computational Biomedicine using the applications of Big Data, Materials Science and Nanotechnology open up unprecedented horizons for modern Medical Science.

Medical technology develops incredibly fast resulting in cutting-edge technologies, which are very quickly being replaced by newer technologies based on innovative ideas that basically come from the interdisciplinary approach to diseases. A typical example is the case of COVID-19 where, both at the diagnostic level and at the level of prevention and treatment (epidemiological surveillance, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies) the contribution of innovation to the promotion of relevant medical technology was decisive.English translation. 

The Museum of Medicine not only monitors and records the evolution of medical technology, but contributes to the development of reflection and the search for answers to a number of ethical issues and particularly bioethic dilemmas that arise in parallel with the development of medical technology.

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School of Medicine
University of Crete
2208 ΤΚ 71003
Voutes, Heraklion Crete, GR