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3D printing for healthcare has potential to improve patient compliance

Because of their lightweight nature, 3D printed braces can help improve patient compliance in the group most affected by scoliosis -- adolescent females.

In part two of this two-part Q&A, Lee Dockstader, director of vertical market development for HP Inc.'s 3D printing business, explains how 3D printed products can improve compliance for certain patients and how 3D printing for healthcare adoption rates can vary by application. In part one, Dockstader discussed emerging uses for the technology.

Are there any differences in patient outcomes or compliance when using a 3D printed product versus a manually made product?

Lee Dockstader: There was a company [called UNYQ] that was making a scoliosis brace, a 3D printed one. With current technology, they have to charge $5,000 or $6,000 for the brace. The current technology that is kind of thermo-formed, the technician cuts a piece of plastic and bends it with a heat gun and gets it to shape to a young lady's form. Eighty-five percent of scoliosis patients are 13 to 18-year-old females. So teenage girls are the biggest affected client base for that.

Lee Dockstader, director of vertical market development, 3D printing, HP Inc.Lee Dockstader

If they wear the brace, most of the time, they won't require surgery. But these are teenage girls and these braces are big, thick, hot, sweaty things, and they wear them to school. They take them off, put them in their lockers and they put them back on when they go home. But when they're 18, they need a $60,000, $70,000 surgery, and that's like a bolt fusing five vertebrae together. But if they wear the brace, the requirements for surgery are drastically less. It's just a pure compliance thing. [There was] a Stanford study [of 60 adolescent girls], some with traditional bracing and some with 3D printed bracing. And if they wore them the same amount, the effects were the same because it basically does the same thing.

But the compliance was half with the manually made brace than it was with the 3D printed brace because it looked better, because the 3D printed one looked like a Wonder Woman lace girdle. It was kind of cool looking, and it worked. When the braces work, they don't need the surgery.

Besides orthodontics and orthopedics, are other medical fields adopting 3D printing for healthcare at the same rate?

Dockstader: It's kind of application by application. I'm going out and visiting tons and tons of medical companies, educating them about what's now possible and at what price and what speed. And some of it is as simple as, well, today they make a certain instrument in one size because it has to be injection molded or machined. And one size is the most popular, and it counts for 75% of the business. But it would be better if they had a small, medium and a large. But they can't afford or justify tooling to do a small and a large, so they just get by.

With 3D printing, they just print the smalls and larges and the injection molds for the mediums. So they work to uncover a whole bunch of stuff like that where it's actually cheaper to print additional devices and throw them away rather than to resterilize them. It's just kind of volume versus price. If we can keep driving the price down per part, the adoption goes up and some smart engineers and product managers come up with better ideas. So right now, it's a justification exercise. It's an education exercise. You know, we can design things to be 3D printed that you wouldn't actually be able to do with the traditional molding or machining. It's really neat stuff.

Do you think 3D printing for healthcare will improve patient compliance? Let me know on Twitter at @TaylaHolman or send me an email at [email protected].

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