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In the medical world, 3D printing is becoming widespread over various fields and sectors, including occupational therapy. As an example, several medical professionals are discovering that 3D printed splints or casts are preferable to traditional plaster, as they allow breathability, comfort, light weight and custom fit. In addition, 3D scanners can capture parts of the human anatomy which can then be 3D printed for study, practice or for creating custom-fit devices. Even pill boxes can be customized for each patient using 3D printing.

There’s still a lot of potential for further development in 3D printing and occupational therapy, and the Occupational Therapy Department at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) is examining the possibilities of 3D printing in the department through a new transformative curriculum project. Graduate student Diego Herrera and Assistant Professor Elizabeth Fain are leading the project, conducting research using an Ultimaker 3D printer that the university recently purchased using a grant from Islamic Relief USA.

Diego Herrera

“There are huge implications for the use of 3D printing technology in occupational therapy practice,” Fain said. “This emerging technology can produce equipment, tools and prosthetics that are customizable and at a much lower cost. Therefore, exposing the next generation of OT practitioners to its potential application is crucial and is an emerging technology that is not being offered at many OT programs.”

Fain and Herrera have 3D printed multiple tools to aid patients so far, including pill bottle openers, button hooks, and eating utensils. Each item costs about 25 cents to print. The tools will be offered for free to patients at the program’s Occupational Therapy Clinic, which is based at the Community Care Center of Forsyth County, the largest and most comprehensive free clinic in North Carolina.

According to Fain, the long-term goal is to start 3D printing prosthetics that can be offered to uninsured residents through Helping Hands Organization and Community Care Clinic. Occupational therapy students enrolled in the Advanced Topics course will also be required to create a piece of 3D printed adaptive equipment, beginning either this fall or next spring.

There are many 3D printed assistive devices available online, and many of those devices have come about through competitions that challenge participants to 3D print tools for people with disabilities. Some of these tools have even been designed by children. It’s become obvious that 3D printing can be of great benefit in the occupational therapy field, yet not too many occupational therapy programs have focused much on the technology yet. Fain, Herrera and the Occupational Therapy Department at Winston-Salem State University hope to change that by showing patients and therapists alike how effective, inexpensive and accessible 3D printing is for creating assistive devices. As one of the few schools that offers a masters-level occupational therapy program, WSSU is perfectly poised to lead the way in incorporating new technology into the field.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: WSSU]

 

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