In 2018, everything is tailor-made. From your morning cup of coffee to your workout playlist, things are exactly the way you like them and made for you. With all things customizable, society is shifting its focus to personalization within healthcare. Utilizing 3D printing technology, medical devices are now matched to the exact specifications of a patient. Designed to be more compatible with a patient’s natural anatomy, devices modeled from patient images have shown greater acceptance by the body, increased comfort for the patient, and improved performance outcomes. The versatility provided by 3D printing gives medical practitioners the ability to give patients the most advanced care, while simultaneously minimizing their risk of complication.
New and noteworthy work in this space includes customized airway stents for diseases narrowing the airway, external prosthetics, and cranial/orthopaedic implants. Customized airway stents are currently in limited production and have been implanted in a small population of patients under compassionate use protocols. Data from these individuals support the practice of customization with significant improvements seen in both function and quality of life. FDA approval for the stents is expected in 2019. Work in prosthetics and other bodily implants is also gaining speed with some cleared for the commercial market.
3D printing technology has also been found helpful in the realm of surgical planning. For surgeries that are new or complex in nature, significant measures must be taken to ensure comprehension of the case. Proactive printing of a patient’s anatomy as a visual aid has been found useful in the preparation for difficult surgeries. The ability to hold a physical model of the patient’s anatomy gives surgeons the ability to conceptualize the ideal course of action prior to operating. To date, the technology has been used for many complicated heart surgeries, and even the Cleveland Clinic’s most recent total face transplant. With its widening healthcare applications, 3D printing is increasing the attention to detail in patient care.