Our current healthcare industry, although facing many uncertainties, is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years. With all the current limitations and coming challenges, one consistent encouraging aspect has been the technology growth fueling organizations to meet the rising healthcare demands. Projected to reach USD 280.25 billion by 2021 (15.9% growth), healthcare IT expansion may begin to take enormous pressure off an already strained market sector1.
3D printing in healthcare is not a new concept. The ability and technology to create cheap prosthetics at an expedited process for a fraction of the former price has been in practice for years. However, we are beginning to see a shift in the way we think about how 3D printing can best serve the industry.
Having the ability to create prototypes and designs digitally, bypass mounting traditional manufacturing costs, while increasing accuracy of designs is why additive manufacturing is becoming more prevalent in this sector2. These factors contribute into making 3D printing an incredibly cost effective solution and will continue to see prices fall even lower. Current projections show the 3D printing market to hit USD 8.6 billion by 2020 (21% growth)3. This market growth will drive down manufacturing costs over time allowing more healthcare organizations to begin to offer more routine services than before.
Typically, 3D printing has been used for more personalized care and personalized healthcare solutions. Additive manufacturing cost effectiveness will allow this to continue going forward. However, wide range healthcare solutions are being designed using 3D technology and are opening the market up for additional possibilities in the future.
We are beginning to see examples such as SI-BONE’s iFuse implant system acquiring FDA approval4. The implant, which had already been in 26,000 procedures since 2009, is now cheaper to manufacture and more accurate, providing 250% greater surface area than their previous version. SI-BONE’s iFuse implant, which treats SI joint dysfunction, should become more readily available and more cost effective to both patients and providers.
The British National Health Service (NHS) and prosthetics company Open Bionics are optimistic that additive manufacturing will help bring 3D printed bionic prostheses to children for free5. A current trial is taking place which could lead to grant funding and then the NHS could offer this product for no cost under their healthcare service. Read Read, a Braille training device created through 3D printing, is undergoing funding to equip 400 of their device to visually impaired students. The device received positive reviews during their trial testing6.
Even new healthcare platforms are being created to take advantage of the benefits 3D printing offers. India’s Deepak Raj developed a cloud-based platform that enables providers to upload CT and MRI patient records that can be created into a digital 3D model for printing. This will allow providers a more detailed, accurate view of the patient’s scans as well as a physical model that a surgeon can use to feel any deformity that may be present7.
Although 3D printing’s impact on patient specific care will not disappear, we will see more organizations start to transition to target larger, less personalized audiences due to technological advancement, low production costs and new service opportunities. 3D printing will allow patient specific care to be quicker, more accurate, and more cost effective. Both physicians and patients are beginning to see the benefits of 3D printing in the hospital system whether it be through low cost alternatives, additional physician training in a risk free environment8, or increasing the effectiveness of current medical devices.
Although there will still be some time before additive manufacturing becomes mainstream and commonplace within the healthcare market, 3D printing is quickly becoming a valuable asset that every clinic will soon adopt to.