To wrap up our three-part blog series focused on applications of 3D printing in the medical industry, we'll discuss the use of 3D printers specifically in the hospital setting. While research on 3D printing in hospitals has been published as far back as 1998, the majority of publications date after 2014—this is a result of recent technological advancements and being more newly adopted into this medical sector. Keep reading to see how 3D printing is changing the game for hospital's surgical departments, clinical training and patient recovery programs.
How Can 3D Printing Help?
When it comes to hospitals, there are two primary goals: patient outcome and economics. By breaking down 3D printing into three top-level categories, 1) Determining, 2) Planning and 3) Practicing, hospitals can achieve better outcomes than traditional methods. Whether improving patient care with pre-surgical planning models, training and educating clinicians with realistic training models, increasing lab and operating room efficiency with jigs, fixtures and production parts, or making hospitals more innovative with rapid prototyping, 3D printing has proven to positively benefit all stakeholders, from patients to medical providers.
Up until recently, hospitals faced challenges when determining which surgical approaches were the best fit for patients because different products and procedures work better for different anatomy and pathology. Without 3D printing, it was difficult to evaluate patients on an individual level. Now, with access to new additive technologies, doctors can customize patient-specific pre-planning models and more accurately predict outcomes.
A popular example is four-year-old Mia Gonzalez, who suffered from a rare congenital heart defect in her aorta. After 10+ hospital visits with no major improvement, Dr. Redmond Burke at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami turned toward a 3D scanned and printed model of Mia's heart. Having an exact replica allowed him to study the heart from a new perspective and conduct a way to do a surgery that was previously thought inoperable. Once making this determination, he used the model to show Mia's family what the issue was with her heart and how he could complete the surgery to correct the issue.
In Mia's case, not only did the 3D printed model help determine whether the procedure was viable, but it also helped during pre-surgical planning. The entire procedure was planned using a 3D model printed with a Stratasys Connex3. With horizontal build layers as low as 16 microns and accuracy up to 200 µm for full model size, these PolyJet machines are prime candidates for medical models. The extreme precision is what allowed Dr. Burke to confirm that he could use a smaller incision than originally thought, which ultimately reduced recovery time. The increasing popularity of using 3D printers in planning is likely due to how difficult 2D radiographs are to visualize. Instead of a flat image, surgeons now have access to an accurate, 1:1 physical representation of the organ involved.
Next to pre-surgical planning, practicing is the second highest use of 3D printing in hospitals. Replicating the patient's anatomy allows surgeons to practice methods on realistic models in a low pressure setting with no risk of injuring the patient. In fact, thanks to multi-material printing capabilities, machines like the Stratasys Connex and J750 line up can combine rigid plastic and rubberlike material to simulate real tissue.
Practicing on life-like models made all the difference for infant patient, Violet Pietrok, who was born with frontonasal dysplasia, a condition like that of a cleft pallet that extends to the top of the skull. In this case, Neurosurgeon Mark Proctor and Plastic Surgeon John Meara of Boston Children’s Hospital used five different models of Violet’s skull and spent over five months practicing different cuts and techniques before surgery. During the actual nine-hour surgery, Dr. Proctor and Dr. Meara’s operating team performed the procedure as they had practiced on their models, often referring to the actual 3D printed models in the room to ensure each step had been performed correctly.
Recent advances in 3D printing technology such as the Stratasys J750, capable of printing in full color and rubberlike material at the same time, allow physicians to create full-scale, highly detailed simulations of patient organs using DICOM images obtained from CT and MRI scans. These models are best used in the determining, planning and practicing phases of complicated procedures.
Click the link below to learn more about how 3D printing is used in healthcare.