The one profession that is never out of a job is a good doctor (second most job secure is a good cook).
However, while incompetent cooks are merely fired, incompetent doctors on the other hand, face perils ranging from having their license revoked to lawsuits. If their bungling actually kills the patient doctors may even face frontier justice (e.g., thrown out the airlock sans space suit).
People might think it is romantic to go homesteading with just their spouse and kids on a remote planetary colony with no doctor or nuthin', right up to the point where they suffer a tooth-ache, broken limb, or a sudden attack of appendicitis. Ain't so romantic now, eh Jeremiah Johnson? Doctors are vital.
On near future solar system exploration ships a doctor will be indispensable. A Mars expedition could be out of range of a hospital for about 2.7 years.
And you will need multiple doctors on board a military spacecraft going into battle.
Doctors/Medics are never risked on any hazardous non-medical task or possibly dangerous environment. A first-in scout mission on a newly discovered planet could be in deep doo-doo if the doctor takes a stroll and is suddenly eaten by the Giant Trap-Door Spideroid (link trigger warning: spiders). The doc has to stay inside the ship, where it is relatively safe, no matter how much they are suffering from cabin fever.
What's in the sickbay? What you'd expect: medical supplies, diagnostic equipment, maybe a sick bed or two, maybe a suspended animation cryo-freeze to put a seriously ill or injured crewperson on ice until the ship can make it to port. On a military ship, the sick bay may have its own separate life support system.
It might have the luxury of a surgical bed, or the doctor might have to make do with a table in the mess deck. (This is why there is a tradition on military ships for off-duty personnel removing their headgear while on the mess deck. It is a sign of respect for the crewmembers who have in the past, or may in the future, suffer and die there.) During combat, the mess deck become the emergency triage/operating room.
"Autodoc" is short for "automatic doctor". It is a science-fictional high tech device shaped like a coffin that a patient enters. Once inside a medical computer diagnoses the patient and cures with the administration of appropriate medication and/or surgery. Just the thing if you cannot afford a real human doctor. Or for an army support ship that expects to be tasked with handling sudden influxes of large numbers of casualties.
They would be incredibly useful, but they do not exist in the real world, nor are they likely to exist anytime soon. No only are the technological challenges daunting, but liability insurance will make them prohibitively expensive until it is proven they have a higher success rate than human doctors. Whereupon they will face stiff resistance from human doctors facing job loss.
Autodocs appear in The Ethics of Madness by Larry Niven, A Plague of Demons by Keith Laumer, The Polity novels of Neal Asher, and the Liaden Universe novels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.
There are all sorts of drugs in science fiction, some medical and some not.
Keep in mind that all drugs are poisons, and all poisons are drugs. The only distinguishing feature is the dosage. One aspirin can cure a hedeache but when your child eats a whole bottle you have to rush them to the emergency room to get their stomach pumped.
In my personal opinion, medications that would make the owner of the drug patent rich beyond the dreams of avarice would include a cure for male-pattern baldness and a diet pill that would allow you to pig-out on whatever food you wanted and still look buff and cut like a Hollywood star.
There are many methods of drug delivery and pharmaceutical formulation. Drugs can be administered orally (peroral) by pills, tablets, capsules, softgels or syrup. They can be breathed in via inhalers, or injected intradermally with hypodermic needles and syringes. Pretty much every single body orifice has some sort of drug using it for entry: eye-drops for the eyes, ear-drops for the ears, nasal spray for the nose, suppositories for, well, you know, pessaries for you'd better look that up. Plus dozens more methods you can read all about here.
If you get fancy one can do intradermal injections via air with a jet injector (though Doctor McCoy calls it a hypospray). In Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel they use "hypo-slivers", pointy shards of solid drug that are inserted under the skin like a medical splinter of wood (science-fictional but probably impractical).
Topical creams are usually for delivering medicine to the skin not through the skin, since said skin is remarkably good at preventing drugs from penetrating. The few drugs that can penetrate are sometimes administered by a transdermal patch.
And of course assassins spend a lot of time inventing surprising and unexpected ways to get poison into their victims.
Antimicrobials are medications used to treat microbial infections. They include antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antiparasitics, and various non-pharmaceutical treatments. Overuse of a particular antibiotic can cause antimicrobial resistance, rendering that antibiotic useless.
In the RPG Traveller, Panacea drug augments healing and Medical Slow drug puts the user into a coma for one day during which they experience a month's worth of healing.
In the RPG Space Opera, a person at death's door can be administered the drug Thanokalamine. This will arrest decay of all body tissue (including the brain and nervous system) long enough to get them to a hospital with Death Revival capability. Shrewd people in dangerous lines of work wear PMS personal medisensor bracelets that monitor their body's vital signs, injecting thanokalamine at need. The comic Murphy's Rules asks the awkward question: how can the drug circulate through the body if the victim's heart has already stopped? A less drastic drug Quicktime Regen rapidly increases wound healing rates.
Star Trek had "tri-ox compound." It is a intravenous medicine used for rapidly oxygenating the blood cells of a living being. Useful if the patient had their space suit oxygen tanks run dry or are otherwise suffocating. As with so many other scifi concepts predicted by Star Trek, this one came true. Doctor McCoy saved Captain Kirk's life with this in The Tholian Web. He did it a second time by pretending to inject Kirk with Tri-ox in the guise of compensating athletic performance in the relatively low oxygen atmosphere of the planet Vulcan (but instead slipped Kirk a mickie). However tri-ox would have made Kirk's blood flush with oxygen. Which means Olympic coaches everywhere are desperately trying to get their hands on the real world version of the stuff to give their athletes an edge.
In the RPG Traveller Fast drug puts the user into hibernation for 60 days during which they require only 1 day's worth of oxygen and food.
In Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END the drug Narcosamine is used to induce hibernation, reducing consumables required for prolonged spaceflight.
In Jack Williamson's LIFEBURST the drug Metabrake is used to induce hibernation to assist surviving space disasters. Survivors need to recover in sick-bay, while counteractants are used to flush the metabrake out of the patient's system. In his earlier novel TRAPPED IN SPACE he calls it a "deep-sleep shot", and it is calibrated to wear off at a given point in time. When the shot wears off, medical attention is required immediately.
And in any science fiction featuring suspended animation or hibernation un-named drugs are commonly used to initiate the process.
In the real world, spaceflight researchers are studying how to induce hibernation. Methods being studied include Therapeutic Hypothermia (temperature-based hibernation), Chemical/Drug-based (hydrogen sulfide or activating adenosine receptors), and Brain Synaptic-based.
In Poul Anderson's THE STAR FOX and in George O. Smith's VENUS EQUILATERAL series the drug Gravanol helps prevent damage if one is exposed to prolonged periods on a planet with more than 1.0 g of gravity, or multi-gravity acceleration on a spacecraft.
In The Expanse spacecraft pilots who need to function at accelerations higher than 1.0 g will go on "the juice". A set of auto-injectors built into the acceleration couch will pivot to the pilot's carotid arteries.
Stimulants aka psychostimulants or "uppers". They induce temporary improvements in either mental or physical functions or both. Effects may include enhanced alertness, wakefulness, and locomotion. They range from caffeine (coffee), amphetamine, cocaine, to methamphetamine (crystal meth).
In Joe Haldeman's THE FOREVER WAR soldiers going too long without sleep can take stimtab, with the understanding that you will pay a metabolic price when it wears off. At that point you can take a second stimtab, but the price increases. You can stay awake and energetic for hundreds of hours on stimtabs but aberrations of judgement and perception snowballed after the second. Eventually you will take freaky hallucinations at face value, and find yourself fidgeting for hours deciding whether to have breakfast.
In David Drake's HAMMER'S SLAMMERS series, the soldiers take a stimulant called a "popper" for the same reasons, and with similar consequences.
In the RPG Space Opera, the drug Tempo will artificially restore lost stamina for 8 hours then for the next 4 hours they are at risk for unexpectedly falling unconscious. The drug Expeditor restores some lost stamina and give artificial extra energy for one hour, after it wears off they are at risk for falling unconscious for the next hour.
Poisonsare used to kill people. For most poisons, there exists an antidote that will prevent the poison from killing the victim if it is administered in time. Technically a "toxin" is a poison that is produce by a plant or animal in nature (instead of being brewed up in a chemical lab by an assasin). A "venom" is a toxin that an animal injects by a bite or sting.
The old rule-of-thumb is: If you bite an animal and you die, the animal is poisonous. If the animal bites you and you die, the animal is venomous.
In Frank Herbert's DUNE, once a person is dosed with a species of Residual Poison it stays in the body forever. The victim must receive a daily dose of the antidote for the rest of their lives to prevent death. This puts them at the mercy of the poisoner. And since they are not technically poisons, waving a poison snooper over food laced with antidote will return a null reading.
In James Blish's CITIES IN FLIGHT series, "anti-agathic" drugs prolong a person's lifespan, as long as they are administered (term is derived from Greek agathos, “good,” presumably mistaken for thanatos, “death”). Others include the Digestive of Gerald Kersh's "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CORPORAL CUCKOO?", antiagathic drug from Traveller, boosterspice from Larry Niven's "KNOWN SPACE" series, antigerone in John Wyndham's TROUBLE WITH LICHEN, stroon / santaclara from Cordwainer Smith's INSTRUMENTALITY OF MANKIND series, and of course the spice Melange from Frank Herbert's DUNE novels.
In Robert Forward's FLIGHT OF THE DRAGONFLY aka ROCHEWORLD, the drug No-Die slows the aging process to one-fourth the normal rate. Unfortunately it temporarily lowers intelligence by roughly the same factor. For the 42 year slower-than-light interstellar mission, the planners chose astronauts with higher than normal IQ so that No-Die only lowered their intelligence to that of a small child. The crew was looked after by the ship's computer, until the destination was reached. This allowed the crew to arrive with an average biological age of 40 years instead of 72.
In Edmond Hamilton's CAPTAIN FUTURE'S TRIUMPH the insidious lifewater brings back one's youthful appearance, removing wrinkles and gray hair. But once you've taken one dose, you have to have a new dose every three months or you suffer an agonizing death from accelerated aging. Users find themselves at the mercy of the drug-dealer.
These are super-duper versions of "truth serum". They include babble juice from Robert Heinlein's DOUBLE STAR, truth drug from Traveller, TC-6 from Roger Zelazny's THE EVE OF ROMOKO, Telol (aka "tell-all") from the Star Frontiers RPG, fast-penta from Lois McMaster Bujold's MILES VORKOSIGAN series and "moment of truth" from James Schmitz's LION LOOSE.
Related are the Focus Drugs from The Expanse. They are not used on the person being questioned, instead they are used by the interrogator. It turns them into a super-duper human lie detector. They can spot fractional second changes of expression and other tells exhibited by the person being questioned. When Expanse co-author Daniel Abraham was asked about focus drugs he said: "Well, it’s a nootropic drug. We don’t specify exactly what it is, but it’s job is to increase focus, to cut away the distractions and to allow people to hyper-focus on whatever it is that they’re doing Um, it’s not unlike what we do with Ritalin."
In the RPG Traveller, "Slow" drug paradoxically accelerates the user's perception and motion by a factor of two (e.g., user can fire their sidearm twice in the time it takes their opponent to fire once) but drug causes medical damage to the user. The name is due to the fact that to the user the entire world seems to be moving in slow motion. Other speed-up drugs include tempus from Robert Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS, Scalosian water from the classic Trek episode Wink of an Eye, and the title drug from H. G. Well's The New Accelerator. The time accelerator in Arthur C. Clarke's All the Time in the World can speed up a person by a factor of about 500,000 but it is a physical device not a drug.
Drugs that slow the user down include the title drug from Grant Allen's Pausodyne (suspended animation), the S-Space protocol of Charles Sheffield's BETWEEN THE STROKES OF NIGHT (2,000:1), the "Fast" drug from the RGP Traveller (60:1), and hibernation/suspended animation drugs
The mutagen ephemerol from the movie SCANNERS causes pregnant women to give birth to children with psionic powers. In the RPG Traveller, Psi-Booster drug temporarily increases an already psionic person's power a little, Psi-Double drug temporarily increases a psi's power a lot, and Psi-Special drug hourly increases a psi's power up to the maximum, then drops back to normal. The spice Melange from Frank Herbert's DUNE novels sometimes grants the psionic ability of seeing the future.
And in many science fiction novels there are drugs that suppress psionic powers, used by the authorities to control psionic people. Otherwise the cops can't keep teleporters from escaping their jail cells. In Babylon 5 all telepaths have to either join the Psi Corps and be subjected to their discipline, or a Psi Cop shows up once a week to give you an injection suppressing your telepathy and giving you the thorazine shuffle.
In wilderness areas the crew will carry first-aid kits (containing much more than just a few band-aids and aspirin), and doctors/paramedics will carry portable medical kits. First-aid kits will also be located in damage control storage lockers in strategic parts of the spacecraft or lander.
In Harry Harrison's DEATHWORLD series, people carried little medikits. These require no medical training to use. When pressed over a puncture wound, the infection and poison analyzer will detect toxins and the medikit's tiny computer will automatically select and inject the required antidote(s). Assuming that the user has been vigilant about keeping all the antidote reservoirs filled, of course. Otherwise it will just beep a warning that it is out of the medicine you need, you moron. The user can also press a button to inject a temporary stimulant, though this is for emergency use only. The same goes for the sedation button and pain killer button.
In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's THE GRIPPING HAND, elderly Horace Bury's wheelchair has a "diagnostic sleeve." It also does not require any medical training to use. When put on the arm, the sleeve does a quick automated medical examination including blood tests. The medical computer does a diagnosis and injects medications as required. If it detects a more serious problem it will sound the alert to call a doctor.
In the TV show Earth 2, doctors used a DiaGlove (diagnostic glove). This is a multiple medical tool for use by doctors on their patients, it requires extensive medical and surgical training in order to use. It can check a patient's heart rate, pulse, EKG, temperature, and do several types of blood tests. It can do ultrasound and MRI scans. It has integral tools that a doctor can use for basic surgical functions like laser incisions, cauterizing wounds, and suturing wounds shut. It can even administer defibrillator jolts if the patient suffers a cardiac arrest. It does not do any computerized diagnosis, that is the human doctor's job.
In the RPG Space Opera crew can wear a Personal Medisensor. This is a strap-on wrist unit the same size as a large wristwatch (ask your parents what a wristwatch was, kids). It constantly monitors the physical condition of the user and displays medical data with a holographic display (but it takes medical training to interpret the data). More to the point, if the user suddenly dies, the medisensor automatically injects a dose of Thanokalamine drug to keep their body fresh until their buddies can get them to a hospital with life revival capabilities.
In the RPG Champions Gadgets! supplement, there was a gadget called an AutoPepper heroes and villains wear on their bodies. If the wearer is knocked unconscious, the autopepper injects stimulants to wake them up and healing drugs to help with damage.
In Frank Herbert's DUNE novels, members of wealthy families prolong their life-span by always scanning their meals with a poison snooper before eating a single bite. The snooper will beep a warning if an enemy (or ambitious offspring) has slipped a deadly poison into the food or drink. This is so common that they have special words for poison placed in food (Chaumas) as opposed to poison placed in drink (Chaumurky). There were hand-held portable poison snoopers for eating on the go, and large models attached to the ceilings of the family dining halls.
There are quite a few real-world medical devices that could be called "medical tricorders" with very little exaggeration.
In the real world, in 2011 the X Prize Foundation announced the Tricorder X Prize. The constest is to develop a mobile device that can diagnose patients as well as or better than a panel of board certified physicians.
As of 2016, of the 40 teams that initially entered the competition who were reduced to 10 finalists, there are two teams still in the running.
Both contestants are using a mobile device for the brains (since smart phones and tablets are fundamentally small computers) that connect with diagnostic peripherals via Bluetooth (since wires just get tangled up). Both entries have tutorial videos in their mobile device, as well as printed instruction sheets. In theory the devices require zero medical training, just familiarity with smartphones and tablets.
Final Frontier Medical Devices is led by brothers Basil and George Harris, founders of Basil Leaf Technologies. Their tricorder is an iPad Mini talking via Bluetooth with a series of 3D printed diagnostic sensors. component.
Dynamical Biomarkers Group is led by Chung-Kang Peng of the Harvard Medical School. Their tricorder is centered around a box. The box has a modified HTC smartphone on top, and houses several medical sensors that connect to the phone via Bluetooth. Medical sensors include blood-glucose and urine test modules. The box is also the charger for all the sensors, with the box being energized by a standard USB cable. This is because one of the contest rules is the tricorder must be capable of monitoring a patient's vital signs for a full day.
Both entries will be tested over the next few months at the University of California, San Diego and scored. The winner will be announced around mid 2017. Naturally win or lose, both teams plan to bring their product to market, though obtaining certification from the FDA is going to be a nightmare. The XPrize foundation will try to help but against bureaucracy the gods themselves contend in vain.
Dynamical Biomarkers Group might have better luck obtaining certification in China. They have a somewhat less stringent process, and the government would be eager to bring such medical help to the remote regions of the country.
In Star Trek, doctors use medical tricorders (a tricorder optimized for medical use) to diagnose ailments (the pocket-sized medical scanner is a more portable but does not report as much detail). A device called an anabolic protoplaser is used to heal wounds by repairing torn veins and arteries and uniting the nerves and muscle fibers using some technobabble radiation. Hyposprays inject medications using jets of air instead of needles, this was cutting-edge science fiction in the time of the original Star Trek but is now common in the real world. In the field Starfleet doctors would carry a medkit containing essential medical tools.
According to the Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual, a medical tricorder has a compartment in the lower section containing a bare-bones emergency surgical kit.
When it comes to surgery, the tool schema is much like that of engineering tools. Surgical tools mainly fall into one of two categories. They cut one thing into two or they join two things into one. They subtract or add (the ancient alchemists called it "Solve et coagula", or analysis and synthesis). In Star Trek, the lasers scalpels cut things into two, and the anabolic protoplasers (somehow) cause body tissues to grow back together. The implication is that the protoplasers somehow use lasers to hyperstimulate anabolism (cell division). Which is total technobabble. In the real world the closest thing to a protoplaser is the skin-cell gun used for burns, but that requires stem cells harvested from the patient.
There are a few tools in other categories: Diagnostic, Measuring, and Supportive. The tricorder and medical scanner is the diagnostic tool (medical database and expert system) and the measuring tool (x-ray and MRI scans). Surgical supportive tools are not shown in Star Trek but in the real world they include retractors, clamps, and forceps.
Surgery is difficult in the field because for best results it requires a sterile area to operate in, and anesthesia for the patient. Star Trek surgical kits include a magic drug called "sterilite" which technobabblically protects the surgical patient from becoming infected when operated on in an unsterile environment. And another magic drug called "melanex" which technobabblically induces safe anesthesia. In the real world, anesthesia is a tricky dangerous procedure that must be closely monitored to prevent harming or killing the patient. The drugs used must be carefully matched to the patient's allergies and genetic make-up.
In the techno-magic area, there are many instances of science fictional technology of some kind of technobabble ray that instantly heals the patient. They are all pretty much fantasy.
Contents of NASA's Shuttle first aid medical kit:
As long as there have existed naval vessels and bubonic plague, there has been a fear that arriving ships might bring a cargo of the Black Death.
When the plague ravaged 14th century Europe, the city state of Venice decreed that arriving ships had to anchor away from the city for 40 days before they could unload passengers or cargo. 40 days was considered long enough so that infected people aboard would either have blatantly obvious symptoms or be dead. The Italian term quaranti giorni means '40 days'. The term evolved into the word "Quarantine".
Within our solar system currently there does not seem to be any extraterrestrial life, and thus no extraterrestrial plagues. The operative word is seem. Under the Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law NASA quarantined the astronauts from Apollo 11 through 14 for twenty-one days, just in case they brought back the Andromeda Strain or something. NASA stopped bothering after Apollo 14 since no space germ was ever found.
- Terrestrial disease germs might become mutated into virulent new strains by the high-radiation space environment
- There is a chance that life can be found in such places as the oceans of Europa and other icy moons
- If your science fiction universe has faster-than-light starships capable of traveling to life-bearing extrasolar planets, all bets are off.
Space station and space port medical officers must be vigilant to detect signs of pandemic diseases in incoming passengers or crew, such patients must be immediately quarantined. A quarantine facility will need to be hermetically sealed, with the only available access through decontamination airlocks.
You will also need a quarantine if the space station contains a laboratory working on dangerous technology. Things like civilization-destroying biowarfare plagues or planet-eating nanotechnology.
If your ship may be boarding people who are infected with a deadly plague, malignant alien parasites, covered in dangerous chemicals, crawling with combat nanotechnology, or dusted with radioactive fallout, you probably do not want them getting your ship or crew dirty. A special airlock leading into a decontamination chamber would be in order.
This is a specialized feature not found on all ship types. You'd expect it on hospital ships, rescue ships, exploration ships, and ships bringing emergency supplies to planetary disaster sites.
A less effective but cheaper option is to use a "suitport". This is where a special space suit attaches its backpack to a hatch on the ship, and the astronaut exist the suit through the backpack. It does reduce, for instance, the external skin of the suit from transporting abrasive lunar dust contamination into the airlock. But the contamination on the backpack still has to be dealt with. A more serious problem is the pressure difference habitat module and the space suit.
In H. Beam Piper's Uller Uprising, the atmosphere of the planet was highly toxic to humans (large amounts of fluorine and fluoride gasses). The pressurized human bases and vehicles had special airlocks, with three consecutive chambers and four doors. Only one door would open at a time, and the middle chamber was always in vacuum. The purpose was to minimize traces of the planetary atmosphere entering the pressurized base.
In the novel and movie The Andromeda Strain the doctors had to remove and burn their clothing, bathe in various chemical disinfectants, be exposed to ultraviolet rays, and have a xenon-flash unit burn the outer layer of skin and all their body hair into ash (except for the head).
The Andromeda Strain also had something akin to a suitport, but it was more like an entire body glove-box. Pressure suits had long telescoping tubes instead of backpacks.
Naturally the decontamination method depends upon the expected contaminant.
Also note that the decontamination only removes surface contamination. If the people have internal contamination (infected by plague or inhaling radioactive fallout) they will have to be put into a quarantine chamber.
In the TV show Star Trek, they use the hand-waving Transporter to remove contamination, internal and external. As their atomic structure is removed from the starting location and transported to the ship, any (known) harmful bacterial, virus, or dangerous elements are "filtered out". Which is hand-waving at best and has creepy dystopian applications at worse.