The History of the Medical Examination Table

Medical examination tables are a basic piece of medical equipment found throughout different healthcare facilities. Yet the design of the modern exam table is a result of centuries of ever-improving medical understanding. Explore the history of the medical examination table and how advancements in technology, medical knowledge, and improved accessibility standards have shaped this piece of equipment.

Early Exam Tables

During the Middle Ages in Europe, Medieval physicians examined their patients on uncomfortable wooden tables that weren’t made specifically for medical exams. In fact, these tables often served other purposes as well, like as a dining table. Due to the limited understanding of anatomy, physiology, and disease, the demand for physical examinations and specialty medical care didn’t exist as it does today. Still, the tables served the purpose of keeping patients steady and improving visibility for physicians.

In the early age of medical practice, the rigorous sanitation standards that modern medical facilities uphold didn’t exist; patients were subjected to unsanitary conditions that spread bacteria and disease. And since physicians’ understanding of illness, disease, and normal body functions was minimal, exams did not always result in correct diagnoses or adequate treatment.

Improvements in Examination Practices

Germ theory, or the theory that microscopic organisms are responsible for causing specific diseases, wasn’t accepted in European and North American medical practices until the mid-1800s. But between 1850 and 1920, germ theory revolutionized medical practices. Improved understanding of the necessity for sanitization led to improvements in materials used to manufacture tables that could be easily cleaned.

Before the early 1900s, most medical exams in the US took place in patients’ homes rather than physicians’ offices. But starting in the 1890s, doctors shifted care to designated medical facilities. At this early stage, examination tables still resembled furniture people would find in their homes. This familiarity helped patients feel more comfortable getting a medical exam in a doctor’s office.

Table Advancements

Over time, the exam table morphed from a basic table you could find in someone’s home to a specialized piece of medical equipment that facilitated doctors’ work. While the exam tables of the early 1900s were still rudimentary compared to today’s tables, they were built specifically for medical care.

Stainless steel examination tables became more common than wooden tables. While this made the tables more durable and sanitary, they were uncomfortable for patients. But as medical technology and techniques advanced, the exam table further changed to accommodate the growing demand for examinations.

As populations grew and urban areas multiplied, hospitals and clinics also grew and proliferated. Tables became portable and varied for use in different types of medical facilities. And as medical specialties grew, the need for exam tables equipped for different purposes and populations grew, too.

Modern Exam Table Standards

Modern exam tables are luxurious in comparison to previous iterations. They not only help healthcare professionals provide quality care to patients, but they also keep patients comfortable. Healthcare providers use exam tables to complete routine physicals for medical screening purposes. They’re also used for specialty purposes, including newborn checks, gynecological exams, and visits for chronic medical disorders.

Standard exam tables help in a variety of medical settings. Depending on the table, healthcare workers can adjust the tilt and height of the table manually or with electrical controls. Electrically powered tables make it easier for physicians to position patients, increasing patient comfort and decreasing the chance of injuries to medical workers.

On top of these capabilities, standard exam tables also have built-in bins and drawers for storage. These organizational tools make it easy for professionals to keep supplies on hand. And the close proximity of supplies facilitates fast and effective patient care.

Modern exam tables are made with easy-to-clean materials that help medical facilities maintain a high standard of cleanliness and sterility. Tables are usually made with surgical steel or hard plastic; sometimes, chiropractic practices use wooden tables. But unlike the exam tables from the Middle Ages, modern wooden exam tables are easy to sanitize.

Exam tables often feature a vinyl cover, which is easy to clean. Thanks to advancements in bacteria-killing solutions, it’s easy to clean the vinyl quickly and thoroughly without damaging the material.

Types of Exam Tables

Exam tables come in a range of sizes and shapes, and manufacturers design some tables for specific types of exams or patient groups.

High-low tables allow physicians to easily bring the exam table to heights that accommodate people in wheelchairs and other patients that might have a hard time getting onto a high table. Adjusting the table’s configuration allows patients to act more independently.

High-low tables are one key to helping medical facilities meet accessibility standards established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This civil rights law, passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires medical facilities to present reasonable accommodations for these populations.

Bariatric exam tables also help physicians accommodate a more inclusive range of patients. Bariatric tables frequently feature a low seat height and a higher weight capacity to offer support for obese patients. Thanks to this accessible table, these patients can get the care they need.

Gynecological exam tables typically feature removable leg holders and adjustable leg rests. These tables are designed for gynecological and urological exams, and medical providers can adjust the tilt of the chair for an easier examination.

Pediatric exam tables are often smaller to accommodate children of different ages. Pediatric care facilities can choose tables that feature playful art designs and bright colors to help children feel more at ease. These tables may also feature digital scales that make it more convenient to weigh young children, toddlers, and babies.

Medical equipment manufacturers routinely improve standard and specialty examination tables. Evolving designs ensure that this important piece of medical equipment will provide a comfortable and supportive surface for patients, as well as enhanced functionality for physicians. As the history of the medical examination table indicates, this equipment will only continue to evolve to meet a wide range of healthcare needs.

Choose an Exam Table From All States M.E.D.

All States M.E.D. is a premier new and used medical supplies store. Whether you want new or refurbished medical equipment, our products can improve your examination room. Let us help you find your new exam table today.

The History of the Medical Examination Table