Visceral Vistas: Basil Hirschowitz and the Birth of Fiberoptic Endoscopy

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Abstract

Fiberoptic endoscopy was developed at the University of Michigan in the 1950s by gastroenterology fellow Basil Hirschowitz and 2 physicists. Previous methods to visualize the gastrointestinal lumen used rigid instruments that relied on rudimentary optical systems. They were limited in reach and caused patients considerable discomfort. Fiberoptic technology dramatically changed endoscopic practice. The fiberoptic endoscope, or fiberscope, was a flexible instrument that allowed direct inspection of the gastrointestinal lumen. Although many practicing endoscopists initially resisted its adoption, the fiberscope ultimately held sway. Studying the period from the fiberscope's first introduction in the late 1950s to its more widespread acceptance in the late 1960s may help us understand how a new technology makes its way into routine clinical practice.

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