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Medical History (often called History of Medicine to distinguish it from individual patient health history) studies how the concept of medicine and medical practice has changed over time, from the earliest incarnations to present day.

One aspect of history of medicine is the social, intellectual, and institutional - how health and illness were conceived in different places and times and contexts, how they changed, how some practices appear, disappear, and reappear, how organizations such as medical schools and public health programs affected who could practice medicine and who could receive medical treatment, how different concepts of health and disease (humoral theories, miasma theories, germ theories, genetic theories) affected medical and surgical practice, how medical practices migrated from one culture to another, and how medicine has been shaped by war, plagues, epidemics, and technology.

Another aspect of history of medicine is more directly clinically related - examining how beliefs and procedures have been transmitted from one generation of healthcare professionals to another and how these beliefs are sometimes empirically false or have little evidence to back them up.

  • Education: Training health care professionals in institutional history, medical attitudes among different age and racial cohorts, and how medical techniques are ideas get transmitted
  • Research: Studying the history of mental health treatment in Mississippi, examining applications of medicine in historical legal battles, determining causes of longstanding health care disparities
  • Clinical: Tracing out histories of diagnostic standards to determine the strength of evidence of those standards (and changing them if evidence is poor)