3-D Printer Makes Medical Models: What does this mean for healthcare management?
By Kathy Wood, Ph.D., FHFMA, Dean of Health Sciences
Imagine the possibilities. You’ve probably heard that phrase before and if you’ve ever sat through a human physiology class or other healthcare-related programs of study, you might have wondered, “Is there a better way…?” Skeletal models, patient simulations, and other advanced medical technology provide a certain level of information, but often it is generic. They don’t offer a true-to-life visual that would allow you to diagnose and prescribe based on a patient’s one-of-a-kind needs.
They’re changing that at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute where a 3-D printer can print models of human anatomy that are specific to the patient!
The benefits of 3-D printing are vast, especially for physicians who face the challenge of applying general medical practices to inherently unique patients. Often, the physician is forced to make critical medical decisions based on flat, 2-D images seen on a screen. They must imagine how a surgery will progress without the benefit of viewing, touching and feeling a patient’s anatomy. The imagination is powerful, but nothing replaces the ability to hold and manipulate a patient’s actual organ – performing a hands-on “trial run” before surgery.
3-D printing changes that, offering physicians the ability to experience an organ, first-hand, before diving into surgery. Of course, this helps the physician, but it also benefits the patient, researchers and ultimately, the revenue of the healthcare organization. Successful patient outcomes may increase as a result of physicians making more informed decisions before surgery. Researchers can use the 3-D models to learn more about specific conditions. Finally, healthcare organizations can see tangible benefits to their bottom line when 3-D models replace exploratory surgeries, opening more hospital beds for new patients and increasing operating room time by more efficiently serving patients.
Bearing in mind that 3-D printing equipment is expensive, healthcare leaders must analyze the return on investment (ROI) and financial viability of the capital expenditure. The challenge arises when considering the intangible benefits of highly advanced medical technology like the 3-D printer. It’s tough to justify a 3-D printer without a clear reporting of data and analysis to support the financial impact – positive or negative. Unfortunately, “imagine the possibilities” isn’t enough to convince healthcare leaders. They want data and tangible benefits, yet those are still being explored and uncovered.
I’m certain more is coming, so stay tuned for additional information as this new technology is adopted further. To read more about 3-D printing see the article 3-D Printer Makes Medical Models (Video) on the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute website.
Kathy Wood, Ph.D., FHFMA is the University Dean of Health Sciences at Colorado Technical University. A fellow of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (FHFMA) with over 30 years industry experience, she also serves as director of Chapter Services on the board of the North Carolina Chapter of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (NCHFMA) and is a member of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
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Image credit: Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute