How a pair of astrologers helped invent modern medical record-keeping

Even by the standards of the 1500s, Simon Forman was a horrendous doctor. A known quack in an era when respected physicians barely knew what they were doing, Forman even spent time in jail for his dangerous practices.

And yet, for all that, it’s Forman and his equally disreputable protege Richard Napier who have left a great gift to the history of medicine. The pair were astrologers, who took down detailed information about a patient’s medical condition, then treated them through careful calculation of their astrological chart. While that might have not done much good for their patients, Forman and Napier’s methods had one huge benefit for posterity: they actually wrote down people’s symptoms.

It seems like such a minor thing, but medical records are extremely rare even in relatively recent times, and most that do exist act more as self-serving odes to the physician’s greatness than any real record of the conversations between doctor and patient. Forman and Napier, for all their other faults – Forman, for his part, was a known sexual predator, a massive narcissist, and an alleged devil worshiper, though that last bit was probably just scurrilous rumor – seemed only interested in calculating the most precise astrological chart. This means their records appear to reflect the actual consultation better than any other records from the era.

via How a pair of astrologers helped invent modern medical record-keeping.

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