|Eyeglasses received about a quarter of all votes in a poll asking readers to pick the top medical device of all time. Image from Wikimedia Commons.|
Eyeglasses are the top medical device of all time, according to a survey of Qmed readers, which to date has received 739 votes. At the time of writing, eyeglasses had received about a quarter of all of the votes.
In any case, corrective glasses are certainly one of the most widely used medical devices. The Vision Council of America estimates that 64% of U.S. adults use glasses regularly.
Glasses are also one of the oldest medical devices. Simple meniscus lenses were described by the Ancient Egyptians in the eighth century BCE. The idea of using a lens to magnify text is thought to date to the first century AD, when Seneca the Younger wrote, "Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water." The Roman Emperor Nero reportedly watched gladiator matches while looking through an emerald lens.
Centuries later, Abbas Ibn Firnas helped pioneer the use of glass to correct vision by devising a way to convert sand into glass. Reading stones were one of the most widely used applications of lenses until the debut of wearable eyeglasses in approximately 1284 by Salvino D'Armate.
Innovations in eyeglasses have occurred at a steady clip every since, culminating in bifocals, trifocals, and, more recently, progressive lenses. The first electronic prescription eyewear was announced in 2011. Known as Empower, the technology from Aspex enables users to toggle between two prescription levels of their lens by swiping a finger along the arm of the glasses' frame, giving them more flexibility than conventional bifocals.
Second and Third Place
The hypodermic needle came in second position in our poll, snagging 20% of all votes. Invented much later than eyeglasses, the hypodermic needle is among the most widely used medical devices, and is manufactured in the billions each year. As we explain in a post on the subject, the hypodermic needle has "probably been responsible for saving more lives and alleviating more suffering than any other piece of medical technology."
The third most popular medical technology in our poll was the X-ray, which received about 15% of all votes. The X-ray, which was discovered on November 8, 1895 by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, was first used to image a human body part only two weeks later, when Röntgen convinced his wife Anna Bertha to subject her hand to the X-rays to produce the familiar translucent image now associated with X-rays. When seeing the image, Anna Bertha is reported to have exclaimed: "Ich habe meinen Tod gesehen!" or "I have seen my death!"
Now, of course, X-rays are commonly used in a number of clinical settings: hospitals, dentists' offices, and, in the case of fluoroscopy, the operating room. X-ray imaging also enabled the development of CT scanners and mammography.