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3D Printing Patient-Specific Anatomical Models In Hospitals Helps Doctors and Patients

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As we know, 3D printing can help to significantly improve procedures in the medical industry, specifically within hospitals. More and more, we are seeing hospitals around the world implement 3D printing technology for a variety of purposes, such as medical training and surgical planning. No two surgeries or procedures are exactly alike, and by embracing 3D printing, hospitals can help their surgeons and doctors be as prepared as possible ahead of time, especially if something goes wrong.

Medical 3D printing is a rapidly growing field, and over the last several years, we’ve seen several hospitals around the world open up 3D printing centers, which focus on everything from bioprinting research and training to fabricating custom 3D printed prosthetics. 3D printing is literally saving lives, and it’s because hospitals are taking a chance on working with modern technologies like 3D printing.

Some hospitals are reducing their spending by 3D printing life-saving instruments and tools, such as stents and surgical guides, for their patients themselves. By 3D printing these custom objects, doctors are providing higher levels of patient-specific care, which can help reduce not only costs, but also the time a patient has to spend in the operating room.

To be able to perform their duties to the best of their abilities, medical professionals need to be able to practice first, and 3D printing technology in hospitals has also helped with this application by improving the quality of training models. Highly realistic 3D printed training models, made with advanced silicone 3D printing technology, offer medical students a way to practice important skills, like giving injections and suturing wounds.

3D printed accurate anatomical models are also good training tools for medical students, and they can help nurses, doctors, and surgeons by giving them the chance to interact and practice with realistic anatomical models before medical procedures and surgeries, which can increase their rate of success.

When it comes to surgical planning purposes, 3D printed patient-specific models are very helpful, as they allow surgeons to get their eyes and hands on the organ or body part they’ll be operating on, which helps them plan out exactly what they need to do during the surgery. Plus, according to a recent study, 3D printed surgical models can save on cost, as well as help get the patient out of surgery faster.

When it comes to 3D printed anatomical models, clinical engineering service representative specialist Greg Gagnon of Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts knows a thing or two about using the technology to save an institution money. He started out using the system to 3D print replacement parts for equipment, but it grew into something much bigger.

Gagnon said, “Three-and-a-half years ago clinical engineering bought this printer for $1,400 to reproduce parts for equipment. Within six months, one of our surgeons – Dr. Andy Doben – who does rib fixation surgery came up and said I heard you have this 3D printer, can you print out some ribs for me?”

While his initial response was “I have no idea,” Gagnon, a self-described “jack of all trades,” wanted to take on the challenge, and used Google and YouTube videos to teach himself how to 3D print plastic anatomical models. Now, he’s catapulted himself to a second career – 3D printing patient-specific anatomical models in-house for both medical and educational purposes.

Greg Gagnon, who works in Baystate Medical Center’s clinical engineering department, holds the model of a jaw he made from a 3D printer that surgeons used to pre-bend metal plates to repair the actual jaw broken in two places as shown on the computer. [Image: Anne-Gerard Flynn]

Gagnon enjoys the challenge of never getting the same request twice, and is now 3D printing these models all the time from DICOM files, such as MRIs and CT scans, so physicians and surgeons at Baystate can help their patients in a variety of ways, such as visualizing how close a tumor is to an organ, repairing traumatic facial injuries, and making sure that metal plates are bent in exactly the right way during a rib cage surgery.

“I take the CT scan and a digital representation of that to scale and then I have other software where I can realign everything and this is printed out,” Gagnon explained about the model for a recent surgery. “Then, the surgeon takes metal plates and bends them to this model knowing this is the exact size and shape it is supposed to be. This saves time during the surgery because they can use these pre-bent plates and know they are they right shape. They sterilize them and bring them into the surgery already prepared.”

In his second career, Gagnon has successfully produced 3D printed anatomical models for a radiation oncologist, a pediatric surgeon, a thoracic surgeon, and even a specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery.

“The doctors who use it say it is invaluable,” Gagnon said. “They say the feedback from the patients is amazing in that sometimes they will take it home and show the families.”

Dr. Rose B. Ganim, Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at Baystate, noted its value:

“This has helped me sleep at night. Thoracic surgery is a very image-based specialty, but our brains are designed to best understand what is tangible rather than abstract. For me it’s magical to have models like these that bring everything to life. It’s a game-changer.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 

[Sources: MassLive, Baystate Medical Center]


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