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UK’s NHS cut costs with 3D printed models for surgery

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November 28, 2011

3D printing has been developed for rapid prototyping services primarily and they have saved companies massive amounts by making prototype manufacturing both quick and easy. Granted cheaper rapid prototyping services have meant that products make it to store shelves more quickly and perhaps at slightly lower prices but the benefit of 3D printing for most individuals has been limited. One way that 3D printing is now benefiting people is through its use in medicine. For operations especially 3D models are very important for surgery that is out of the ordinary. In the past models would be made using techniques similar to traditional rapid prototyping techniques. These cost often thousands of dollars and so it makes a lot of sense to use the latest rapid prototyping services techniques of 3D printing to save money.

The NHS in the United Kingdom that provides free healthcare to all has always had constraints on its budget. It has been unable in the past to justify the cost of models costing the same as the cost of an operation, especially while there are waiting lists for many non-essential operations. 3D printing though has left the cost of models at around 5% of what they cost previously, around £75 or $115.

Costs though could potentially still come down further;since the NHS first started getting models made in the Netherlands and shipped across demand has increased drastically and it may soon make financial sense for theNHS to invest in their own central 3D printer to send models out to hospitals across the UK, it currently takes a week to send models from the Netherlands, little use for emergency operations.

The models that are created are based on CT scans of usually bones but also potentially organs. The CT scans are sent as digital files to the Nederland based 3D printing company. Once these are sent back the surgeon can study the models prior to surgery in order to plan the operation in detail as well as using them during surgery.

During surgery often a surgeon has no way of seeing what they are touching, to get a better view often means larger incisions making surgery more dangerous and meaning it takes longer to recover from.

Having a model in front of him or her the surgeon can tell what they are touching and how to navigate inside someone’s body in a way that wouldn’t be possible with a 2D x-ray or CT scan image.

Bones with deformities and defects are most likely to need to have surgery and the worse the deformities the more complicated the surgery. A recent operation in Scotland by an NHS surgeon was to repair the hip of a 79 year old patient;the model created was of the relevant area of the pelvis. Due to the condition of the patients hip the model was vital and using it the surgeon, who was the original instigator of using 3D printed models in the NHS, was able to complete the operation with complete success. This left the patient able to report very little pain following the operation, such was its accuracy.

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