Useless Medical Devices

MDNG Primary CareOctober 2008
Volume 10
Issue 10

Throughout history, the public's pursuit of good health has, in the absence of scientific method or even common sense, motivated the creation of some downright ridiculous medical devices.

Throughout history, the public’s pursuit of good health has, in the absence of scientific method or even common sense, motivated the creation of some downright ridiculous medical devices. For example, what possible use could devices like the Prostate Gland Warmer or the Recto Rotor offer? Let’s take a closer, historical look at a few examples of medical devices that never should have seen the light of day. Shoe-fitting X-Ray In the 1950s, an estimated 10,000 fluoroscopes were used in shoe stores for fitting shoes. The units were basically just an X-ray tube “wholly or partially enclosed in a shielded box.” After penetrating the shoes and feet, the X-rays then struck a fl uorescent light, resulting in an image of the feet within the shoes. This image (a refl ection of it) could be viewed at ports on the top of the unit.

The use of these devices intentionally exposed people to ionizing radiation for nonmedical purposes. Also, the machines were often out of adjustment and constructed so that radiation leaked into the surrounding area. Because of the unacceptable risks and high doses, this type of application was banned in most states. However, a functioning and employed shoe-fi tting X-ray unit was found in a shoe department in 1981.


The Spectro-Chrome was invented by Dinshah P. Ghadiali, who presented the “Science of Spectro-Chrome Metry” in 1920.

Although we know that colors can infl uence mind and mood (as appreciated by interior decorators, for example), Ghadiali claimed a far greater and more specifi c medical eff ect. He insisted that almost any medical condition, except for broken bones, was amenable to color therapy. The word “cure” was later substituted for “normalize” and the process of “normalating” the body. According to Ghadiali, every element exhibits a preponderance of one of the seven prismatic colors. Healthy people have balanced color, but disease is associated with imbalanced colors.

How do you cure a given disease? Just administer (literally shine on the patient) the colors that are lacking or reduce those that have become too strong.

The Spectro-Chrome device itself was in fact a box with a 1000-watt light bulb and an opening fi tted with colored fi lters. Th ese fi lters, named “Attuned Color Wave Slides,” could be used to produce 12 diff erent colors, and an accompanying Spectro-Chrome Th erapeutic System guide detailed which colors to choose. For example, green light was described as a pituitary stimulant and germicide, whereas scarlet was a genital stimulant.

Joe Schwarcz, PhD, has written extensively about the device at Quackwatch and notes that (rather manipulatively) the inventor also “maintained that the Spectro- Chrome was especially suited for use by intelligent people, because ‘drugs quickly upset the nervo-vital balance of persons of high mental and spiritual development.’” In 1945, the inventor was “charged with introducing a misbranded article into interstate commerce.” His star witness in the following proceedings, who was apparently “cured” of seizures through color therapy, had one on the witness stand.

Toftness Radiation Detector

The Toftness Radiation Detector was patented in 1971 and intended to scan a patient’s spine. The inventor claimed that an area of neurological disturbance (nerve stress) would emit a greater amount of radiation, and his device relied upon this.

The radionics device would be placed (often held by a mechanical arm) over a patient lying in the prone position, and talcum powder would be placed within it.

Rubbing the back (the lens) of the device with the fi ngers in a circular manner while applying talcum powder would apparently cause a characteristic stick or squeaking sound when the device passed over an area of nerve stress. “The squeaks were counted; the more squeaks, the greater the nerve interference, disease, or subluxation. A lower number of squeaks indicated the patient was beginning to improve.”

The device itself strongly resembled PVC piping and couplings and, in fact, was exactly that, with the addition of six plastic lenses. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the device was deemed completely worthless and outlawed by the FDA in 1984.

Foot-operated Breast Enlarger Pump The answer to the question “Do breast developers work?” is quite simple: The FDA states that “For decades, millions of dollars have been spent on devices, creams and lotions advertised as breast developers. All wasted. There is no device or system of exercise that will increase the size of the breasts. At best, devices promoted as breast developers merely strengthen and develop the muscles that support the breasts, and exercising these muscles will not appreciably increase breast size…The only proven method of increasing breast size is breast augmentation surgery, which carries some risks…”

However, bust developers remain popular products, with millions of US women having purchased the Foot-operated Breast Enlarger Pump in the mid-1970s. The device had all the visual appeal of a contraption for torture and consisted of a pump, clear plastic tubing, and two cups—all, remarkably, in large sizes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gadget served only to create bruising as the user pumped the foot pedal and generated a vacuum around the breast.


The String galvanometer is able to detect and record the small electrical currents produced by the human heart and therefore provided the first practical electrocardiogram.

However, in the early 1960s, an apparently “scientific,” but in fact worthless, machine called the Micro-Dynameter was being sold. The gadget featured a rather impressive exterior but was actually a string galvanometer and simply measured electric currents.

It was wrongly promoted for diagnosing or curing many diseases and conditions, but the device was found via the courts to be “worthless and hazardous to health when relied upon by patients.” In fact, a court trial introduced evidence that readings given by the Micro-Dynameter actually showed no significant differences whether the “patient” was a living body or a cadaver

Dr. Paton is a lecturer in Health Informatics at Otago University in New Zealand, the editor of the Doctor’s Gadgets blog, and CEO of New Media Medicine, a medical e-learning and website development company.

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