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Cyprian Mengich

Cyprian Mengich

Benefits of Patient-Specific 3D Printed Models

Advances in 3D printing have brought significant benefits to many industries globally, one in particular being the medical technology sector.

As 3D printing technology has become more accessible, adoption has become more and more widespread in the medical field. The advantages of applying 3D printing solutions have become more apparent to stakeholders in areas including:

  • Prototyping, testing and production of medical devices
  • Development of custom medical implants
  • Production of patient-specific anatomical 3D models
  • Development of surgical guides
  • Production of medical models for training and education
  • Design and development of prosthetics

In this article, we are going to focus on the advantages that patient-specific 3D printed anatomical models bring to the medical field.

Traditional medical imaging systems, such as X-Ray, CT, MRI, Ultrasound etc., provide 2-Dimensional visual representations of body tissue. CT and MRI scans generally produce hundreds of images that need to be analysed individually for a doctor or radiologist to make a judgement on the best course of action for a patient’s treatment.

In medical 3D imaging, these 2D scans are stacked together, and combined to produce a 3D visualisation of a patient’s organs. Utilising specialized software, individual organs or tissue are isolated within the 3D view, and 3D computer models are created. 3D printers are then used to manufacture these computer models, resulting in patient-specific physical models.

Advantages of using 3D printed models include:

Determination of Best Treatment

Specialists can inspect a full-scale model of the anatomy in three dimensions, providing enhanced insight into a patient’s needs. This allows for a more accurate diagnosis.

Access to a tangible, scale model of what is inside the patient allows surgeons to visualize and explore the ailment or injury in real space and reach a much more comprehensive understanding of their patient’s injuries, and in turn determine the optimal treatment for each diagnosis.

Pre-Operative Planning

Custom medical models allow surgeons to plan and practice for operations. Pre-operative planning reduces the time that patients spend in surgery, lowers the risk of complications and infection rates. Consequently, patients experience shorter recovery times, saving time, money and hospital resources.

Patient-specific anatomical models enable surgeons to try new techniques and prepare equipment well in advance of stepping into the operating theatre.

Design and Development of Custom Fit Implants

Anatomically accurate 3D models are used by medical specialists to design and manufacture custom-fit medical implants. The printed models are used as a guide in cases such as:

  1. The design and shape of the medical implant is made to conform to the surface of the printed model, producing a fixture well-suited to the patient.
  2. In cases of a patient injury to bone structure, such as a cranial injury; the undamaged portion of a patient is used as a reference to mould a custom-fit implant, restoring the unique structure of the patient.

Enhanced Patient Education

Custom medical models improve the experience of both doctors and patients. 3D models can be used to better explain to a patient the treatment or surgery that a doctor wants to carry out.

Seeing and holding models of their anatomy can help a patient better understand their ailment, as well as feel more comfortable and confident in the suggested procedure.

Medical Training and Education

Training of medical professionals with physical anatomical models, provides a hands on realistic scenario within a controlled environment.

Cost Savings: Operating Room Time Saved

This point is based on a study conducted by Ballard et al in the US (2019), to generate an economic analysis of the cost-saving potential of 3D printed anatomic models and surgical guides in orthopaedic and maxillofacial surgical applications.

Medical 3D Printing Cost-savings in Orthopedic and Maxillofacial Surgery: Cost Analysis of Operating Room Time Saved with 3D Printed Anatomic Models and Surgical Guides

David H. Ballard, MD; Patrick Mills, JD, LLM; Richard Duszak Jr., MD; Jeffery A. Weisman, MD, PhD, JD; Frank J. Rybicki, MD, PhD; Pamela K Woodard, MD

Cost-savings from operative room time saved plotted for the individual studies including 3D printed anatomic models (a) and surgical guides (b) used in patients’ operative care compared to a control group. The $22, $62, and $133 USD/minute are collective data from the reference study reporting range of operating room time/minute in the United States.

Results:

Seven studies using 3D printed anatomic models in surgical care demonstrated a mean 62 minutes ($3720/case saved from the reduced time) of time saved, and 25 studies of 3D printed surgical guides demonstrated a mean 23 minutes time saved ($1488/case saved from the reduced time). An estimated 63 models or guides per year (or 1.2/week) were predicted to be the minimum number to breakeven and account for annual fixed costs.

Conclusion:

Based on the literature-based financial analyses, medical 3D printing appears to reduce operating room costs secondary to shortening procedure times. While resource-intensive, 3D printed constructs used in patients’ operative care provides considerable downstream value to health systems.

Potential cost-savings per surgical case from the listed anatomic models and surgical guide studies paired with reference data of mean cost of operating room minutes.

Challenges

Of utmost importance in the production of these models is accuracy. Both technologies have desktop 3D printers, of accuracy up to 0.05 – 0.1 mm, available in the market today. This resolution captures the smallest detail in human anatomy, providing medical specialists adequate information to make improved judgements for patient treatment.

At present, 3D printing of medical models, depending on the size, can take anywhere from a few hours to a number of days before completion of the model. Indeed, the speed of production is a major challenge for technologists.

For time sensitive cases, or in instances where a medical specialist does not have days to make a judgement, use of 3D medical imaging software, such as Visual Anatomy, would still provide the 3D visual representation in a matter of minutes. This would still help doctors make diagnostic decisions with greater confidence.

Conclusion

The adoption of 3D printing technology in the medical industry is still in its infancy, and as 3D printers continue to get more affordable, accurate and widespread, the potential benefits are significant. Indeed there are arguments for a modern day hospital to have a 3D medical imaging lab and/or printing facility within their premises.

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