From checking levels of blood sugar with a handheld device on your sofa, to making an emergency call huddled against a remote mountain peak, without the wonderful world of research, these potentially life-saving possibilities simply wouldn’t exist.
Fired by a passion to find out more, it’s thanks to the world’s clinicians, academics, scientists and researchers and their lightbulb moments, that these breakthroughs have come about.
So, what are the key ways research has propelled advancement in healthcare?
1. Prevention is better than cure
Through research, we’ve learnt about the structure of the human body. We’ve been able to study the diseases, illnesses and ailments that can affect it and, crucially, explore the risk factors, treatments and interventions that go into preventative care.
It’s this preventative approach that is becoming increasingly important. As a more health-conscious species, humans are starting to appreciate the value of looking after ourselves - both inside and out, and we’re increasingly aided with research-supported tools to help us live longer, happier, healthier lives.
2. Learning from the past
It’s not all been plain sailing, in fact, far from it. Some of the early research trials, experiments and investigations were questionable in their ethical and moral approach (to say the least).
There was a time when we thought that mental illness was actually possession by evil spirits that could only be cured by making a hole in the skull to set them free. Times have changed, thankfully…
Gradually, we've discovered a great deal from studies and clinical trials into major epidemics. Through research into Measles, Smallpox, Polio and Mumps, we've learnt about diseases, contagions and germs. This, in turn, led to work into the discovery that exposure to certain contagions could actually evoke immunity - hello immunology! Cue the introduction of vaccinations and a 99.99% reduction in cases of Measles since the 1950’s. (1)
3. Sharing is caring.
As technology has improved, clinically rich information has become accessible more quickly. This has allowed a collaborative approach to healthcare in which clinicians of all disciplines can share knowledge to promote a holistic, whole system approach, considering all aspects of patient care.
Online healthcare platforms also raise awareness and allow patients to log, track and share information.
4. Making life easier
With increasingly busy schedules, we all want the best we can get with as little effort as possible, and there’s a huge range of health and lifestyle apps that encourage us to make more positive life-conscious decisions.
We can track our activity, encouraging us to walk a bit more to reduce our risk of heart disease, or to keep hydrated to optimise our physical and mental functioning, and even log dietary intake.
Crucially, we are fast becoming more able to assess how we're living. This is having an enormous impact on health and mortality.
Research has educated us about how we can make things better. By reviewing data and conducting research studies, we’ve been able to expand our existing knowledge. We can question existing trends, risks, outcomes and patterns and think about ways of improving.
We can understand that the rate of cardiovascular disease has declined, and that the reason for this reduction is decreases in blood pressure, lower rates of smoking and falling cholesterol levels (2). This knowledge gives people the opportunity to make autonomous, lifestyle decisions which can further promote health.
6. Lightbulb moments
Crucially, it’s research settings that facilitate the lightbulb moments, the random one-off thoughts that suddenly come to us.
What starts out as a random curiosity or notion becomes a hypothesis - a proposed idea, acting as the origin for further investigation. It’s research that nurtures these moments of inspiration, oxygenating the sparks which go on to light the future pathways of knowledge.
Hope is important. Perhaps the most important thing of all. Hope reminds us that through research, new possibilities will always exist over the horizon.
Research has enabled us to treat, prevent and cure a multitude of diseases and illnesses and promoted methods of reducing pain and suffering in others. It’s helped to support and aid those with pre-existing conditions and cure others of life-threatening conditions.
Thanks to research and technology, online forums and communities have grown, giving us spaces to relate to others and share helpful ideas. Crucially, through research, you can see that you're not alone and that as long as research continues, there will always be hope.