top of page

Origins of Healthcare

While the Civil War forced the US to progress in medicine, from there, the way we progressed throughout time, led to a very different system than that of other areas such as Canada or the UK. This has led to the American healthcare system, some love it, and some hate it. However you may feel about the American healthcare system, this paper will take a dive and look into the history of everything healthcare. Everything healthcare includes realms of healthcare outside of the traditional hospital walls, such as Emergency Medical Services, Psychological Services, and even Health Insurance.

So we begin with the 1700s. When colonists initially migrated to America, the healthcare system lacked all knowledge. Mainly due to the fact that not many upper-class physicians migrated during the initial move. Due to this much of what was considered healthcare was provided by women and looked at through a mother's caring hand, especially when it came to birth. Aside from that, many illnesses were treated with homemade remedies, such as stuffing garlic up the nostrils and drinking warm tea. The first medical society was born soon after in 1735 in Boston, which quickly led to the formation of the first general hospital in Philadelphia in 1750.

Within this time frame, the first medical school was established and the first medical degree was handed out. From there on the community grew. However, in 1861 when the Civil War has declared these ways changed. With diseases and wounds rampant, research, techniques, equipment, facilities, and methods were pushed into progress. The Civil War also led to the birth of Emergency Medical Services in the army. By the 1870s different cities began to incorporate civilian ambulances. Even once the war was over the momentum stayed and medicine and medical knowledge kept booming. With the American Medical Association, initially founded in 1849, growing momentum more changes, and some national policies began to fall into place. While some private insurance adjacent companies had begun to form the first modern insurance plan wasn’t enacted until the 1920s when a group of Dallas, Texas teachers joined together to create a program where they would pre-pay through a monthly fee of 50 cents to their hospital, this eventually developed into the insurance we now know as Blue Cross. More hospitals and groups of people begin to follow this path and soon insurance groups separated from hospitals to create their own companies.

With the great depression and the increasing rates of insurance and hospitals, many people were unable to pay for services. So, Franklin Roosevelt created the Social Security Act of 1935. This allowed for benefits to those who were retired, elderly, disabled, or eligible through another category. As different Presidents came into play and other wars came and ended many programs and ideas were shuffled through and tabled. However, during the 19th century, another advancement was made in the field of healthcare, and specialties. The first specialty was Otolaryngology, the study of diseases of the ear, nose, and throat which we now more commonly refer to as ENTs. With the birth of American medicine, there were no specialties. Giving birth, surgery, receiving stitches, and general visits were all done by one doctor. The birth of specialties was greeted by controversy, but one thing is for sure. Specialties allowed for specialized research, leading to many new and great inventions.

Modern medicine wouldn’t be possible without many tools, techniques, and other inventions that are now used on a daily basis. Looking at only a few of these amazing inventions we first look at the smallpox vaccine. One of the earliest inventions was made in 1799 by Benjamin Waterhouse. Not only did this eradicate the smallpox pandemic but it led to the future development and usage of vaccines in other areas. Other inventions such as anesthesia in 1846, insulin in 1922, heart valve surgery in 1923, or MRIs in 1979 have all helped grow medicine into what it is today.

Along the way, psychological services outside of traditional hospital care were suggested and slowly implemented. Specifically, counseling services broke through as a specialty of the American Psychological Association in the 1940s and became recognized by 1946. Especially with the end of WWII in 1946, psychological services were in high demand. Doctors and professionals began pushing for services and care in a separate facility where they can have a chance to recover. Proper education for counselors was put into place and by 1958 an act was passed to establish funds to train psychological professionals such as counselors. The later 20th century and going into the 21st century expanded the realm of healthcare into psychological services, clinics, and other tools aside from your main physician. Medicine may still have a lot of discovery to be done but the advancements made in the past few hundred years save lives daily.