A relatively new technology, 3D printing, has been increasingly used in manufacturing and engineering industries for prototyping and very low volume production. The technology has even recently been adapted for individual enthusiast use with low cost printers available in a number of consumer sales channels. Use of 3D printing technology has started in the medical field and David Kashmer, MD, MBA, a surgeon and medical innovator, foresees increasing use in health care. Personalized medicine is a trending topic and 3D printing is one of the best examples of personalized medicine.
Kashmer stated, “We’re just starting to see patient-specific biodesign and 3D printing at the level of the medical center. We are able to adapt a medical device just for a specific patient, at just exactly the right time and with the specific dimensions for the patient that is a perfect fit. There are also many applications for 3D printing technology in medical research.”
In June 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) started the 3D Print Exchange that allows for the sharing of 3D design files. In announcing the exchange, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D. said, “3D Printing is a potential game changer for medical research. At NIH, we have seen a incredible return on investment; pennies’ worth of plastic have helped investigators address important scientific questions while saving time and money.”
Kashmer has observed an emerging trend of 3D printer installations at the medical center level. One example of an application of this technology is for pre-operative planning for difficult or innovative procedures. For instance, by using a CT scan file, a 3D model of a specific patient’s aorta can be printed. The surgical team can study the model in advance and make modifications to the surgical procedure based on their advance study.
Production of truly customized medical devices is another new application. A surgeon can exactly size a replacement trachea or a stent for a trachea with a 3D printer using images of the patient’s existing trachea. Even external medical devices like ostomy appliances that fit near difficult wounds can be custom-made for cases where mass-produced devices would not properly fit the patient.
Providing 3D models of removed organs can enhance patient satisfaction. Patients frequently request to have their fractured spleen, gallstones or carotid plaque that have been removed. While returning the actual organs is not typically done, hospitals could provide 3D models for patients upon request. The only expense to the hospital is the upfront investment and ongoing maintenance. Kashmer indicates that this is a good way for hospitals to start getting some experience with 3D printing without significant investment and resources.
Kashmer sees a number of constraints to more rapid deployment of 3D printing in medical centers. First is the cost of the equipment, although 3D printers are becoming much less expensive than other medical equipment. Another barrier is the lack of a skill base to use the equipment. Bio-compatible materials technology is evolving and more development is needed to expand into more potential applications. Finally there is some lack of certainty around regulation of custom-produced medical devices at the medical center level. Kashmer forecasts these barriers will be removed as the technology rapidly develops in the coming years.
Dr. Kashmer is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and he holds a Master Black Belt Certification in Lean/Six Sigma. In addition to his medical training he also has an MBA from George Washington University. Kashmer is editor of and contributes to the “Surgical Business Model Innovation” blog where the focus is on quality improvement and innovation in surgery and health care. He also is the medical advisor for a team that implements 3D printing systems for hospitals.
To learn more about Dr. David Kashmer and medical innovations including the use 3D printing in health care visit: http://www.surgicalbusinessmodelinnovation.com.