Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century
Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century

1 The rise of laboratory medicine

1.1 Transforming practice

‘Laboratory medicine’ represented a fundamental shift away from the established view of the body and disease. Where hospital medicine saw disease as a collection of symptoms in life, which related to changes in body structure discovered at post-mortem examination, laboratory medicine sought to explain the structure of the body at the cellular level and to describe its function as a complex series of dynamic processes. Within this medical cosmology, the laboratory usurped the hospital as the locus of research, and the laboratory scientist claimed a greater authority than the clinical practitioner. The diagnosis of particular infectious diseases now relied on tests on tissue samples performed at the lab bench, not simply on the subjective analysis of patterns of symptoms.

At the time Nicholas Jewson published his article ‘The disappearance of the sick-man from medical cosmology, 1770–1870’ (1976), few historians would have questioned how the laboratory acquired this central role within medicine. In an area when ‘high tech’, scientific medicine seemed to supply an endless stream of new theories and better therapies, the laboratory was assumed to have won its place simply on the grounds of utility.

While laboratory research undoubtedly revolutionised understanding of body function and disease, its impact on medical practice is less clear-cut. Laboratory medicine did lead to improved techniques of diagnosis, but research produced few new therapies until the twentieth century. Even when new diagnostic methods and new therapies did become available, practitioners did not rush to adopt them.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371