3D printing and the rise of point-of-care medical manufacturing

As a rule, the healthcare infrastructure doesn’t dabble in manufacturing, but that is changing in dramatic ways, and that transformation is enabled by 3D printing. A white paper published by SME (Dearborn, MI), a nonprofit organization promoting manufacturing technology, explains how point-of-care (POC) manufacturing is reducing healthcare costs while improving patient experience.

In the white paper, “Physicians as Manufacturers: The Rise of Point-of-Care Manufacturing,” SME describes POC manufacturing as a “non-traditional form of manufacturing referring to just-in-time creation of anatomical models, surgical instruments, prosthetics, scaffolds and other 3D-printed applications at the place of patient care based on their personal medical imaging data.” It’s happening today in hospitals and within the Veterans Affairs System as well as university engineering departments and contract manufacturers collaborating with healthcare providers. According to data provided by 3D technology company Materialise, the number of U.S. hospitals with a centralized 3D-printing facility has increased 3200% between 2010 and 2016. Sixteen of the top 20 hospitals, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, have implemented a medical 3D printing strategy.

The top three applications of POC 3D printing, according to a survey conducted by SME, are anatomical models (71%), prototyping (56%) and tooling, jigs, fixtures and molds (46%). Other applications include surgical instrument cutting guides (43%), dental (28%) and prosthetics and orthotics (26%). Both resorbable and non-resorbable patient-matched implants tied at 13%.

When asked which materials would see the greatest increase in both POC and traditional manufacturing, 84% of POC manufacturers voted for polymers and 63% said metals.

Chart courtesy SME
Chart courtesy SME

The benefits of POC manufacturing cited by SME in the white paper include reduced operating room time for practitioners and lower patient readmission rates, which “directly translate to cost savings for the institution,” notes the report. Another advantage, according to the authors, is that “clinicians can regularly visit the manufacturing lab and provide iterative feedback during the process of anatomical modeling.” The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), for one, is on board.

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