The use of advanced technologies in medicine is now ubiquitous, and utopian visions of a high-tech future in the service of almost any branch of medicine have become closer than ever to reality. New technologies are actively used by health services in most developed countries. First of all, technological innovations affect the sphere of storage and access to information. In this era, traditionally called the information age, the introduction of information technology in medicine has had a positive effect on all aspects of medical practice.
However, among the urgent medical problems is the consideration of other technological developments not related to the Big Data era. Access to information and free disposal of countless data does not necessarily guarantee the improvement of the professional skills of doctors and nurses themselves. By giving unlimited access to knowledge and even self-diagnosing, comprehensive medical analytics programs can accelerate the operation of a medical institution. At the same time, they reduce the level of involvement of doctors in activity without providing them with space for independent practice. In this regard, it is required to find and propose a technological development of this nature that would be able to improve and develop the practical professional skills of doctors. One of the most practical technological innovations that could be used ubiquitously in the hospital setting is 3D modeling.
3D Printing in Medical Training and Practice
Printing three-dimensional objects in medicine can have a variety of practical applications. The most logical thing here seems to be the preparation of 3D models of body parts, skeletons, or organs in order to train surgeons and orthopedists. The ability to practice 3D models is an extremely important innovation for modern medicine, improving the skills of an entire segment of the medical service. The training of surgeons and orthopedists previously trained on models is described as more advanced, which results in less time spent on the actual operation. The benefits of training on printed body models seem obvious to the modern student community, despite the fact that they do not believe that practice on real bodies should be abolished (Wilk et al., 2020). The ability to train on models generally reduces the actual operation time by 25 percent. Accordingly, the productivity of an individual hospital unit can increase by a quarter with the introduction of 3D models.
As an example, one should take the trials conducted at the University of California San Diego, where an experiment was conducted with two controlled groups of patients. One-half of the patients were operated on with pre-printed models of their hips; the other half were operated on without models. Using the models as practical training allowed to reduce the length of each operation by about 40 minutes, which, if translated into a financial equivalent, is equal to at least $ 2,700 (3D Printing Progress, 2017). It is necessary to transfer these results to the practical field and calculate how profitable such an acquisition is. The cost of such an innovative printer as a whole reaches 2-2.5 thousand dollars. This is a rather expensive purchase for a medical institution, but a positive financial result will not be long in coming. The prints themselves on such a printer are practically worth nothing compared to the original purchase price.
Thus, saving time on each of the operations performed actually exceeds the cost of a one-time purchase of a printer. Therefore, the financial benefits of acquiring this technology are enormous and should be taken into account by any medical institution. Even for a relatively poor, financially secure hospital, it makes sense to invest in this purchase since, in the long term, it is a guarantor of technological advantage and economic profit. The benefit of being able to visualize the objects of surgical intervention before surgery is both useful for the doctor and additionally safe for the patient.
Despite the fact that the prospects for 3D printing in medicine are virtually limitless, at the moment, developers have not yet learned how to produce structurally complex organs, such as the liver, kidneys, or heart. Despite this, the implantation of printed body parts is possible in the current modernity, but on a more moderate scale. Organs are printed by a branch of regenerative science called bioprinting. Currently, using bioprinting technology, it is possible to print less complex units of the human body, such as joints or blood vessels.
The bioprinting technique consists of superimposing successive layers of one on top of the other to create an intricate three-dimensional sculpture. While synthetic material is used to create models for surgical practice, organic molecular cells are used in the printouts of donor organs and textures. Of course, the preparation of equipment in such a way as to provide 3D printing from organic bioink should be quite expensive. However, one should take into account the amount of finance that the hospital can accumulate during the use of 3D modeling in practice, saving on each complex operation. With this ongoing savings and accumulation of funds, the hospital may be able to implement a practice as expensive and complex as biomodelling. In the future, this could make the hospital a name as one of the most progressive and innovative. Thus, investing in specific areas of medical and technological progress can be extremely profitable in the long run.
Long-Term Possibilities of 3D Printing
Moreover, 3D printing is quite successfully used in medicine for the manufacture of individual prostheses or surgical implants. Due to the specifics of sequential layering in 3D modeling, implants can be made in a wide variety of sizes and geometries. One of the fabrication techniques can be the conversion of X-ray images into models for printing using specialized software (Koffler et al., 2019). Improving these skills by specialists after the organization has acquired a 3D printer can also significantly contribute to the financial success of the organization. Equipment costs turn out to be ten times less than the entire range of financially profitable goods that can be obtained as a result of its use. Most of the technologies that are proposed for use in hospital settings have already been tested in practice. Tissues that mimic bone texture or body tissues have already been discovered by scientists and can be freely used in medical practice (Placone & Engler, 2018). Thus, the introduction of 3D printing into hospital environments on a multi-level plan can bring not only innovation to the hospital but also significant financial benefits.
The scope of 3D printing only continues to expand in modern medicine, which only emphasizes the prospects for the acquisition of this technology by a medical institution. For example, one of the latest innovations is the ability to print pharmacological preparations. This is necessary in order to measure individual doses of drugs with a complex structure and technology for release and absorption by the body with molecular accuracy. 3D modeling makes it possible to personalize this process, creating either tablets with individual dosages or combinatorial tablets that include several agents. This direction of pharmaceuticals may turn out to be extremely progressive and profitable in the future, which will be directly related to the development of pharmacology and a more precise individualized demand for drugs.
Goals, Objectives, and Significance
The main goal of the proposed chain of innovations is the widespread active use of 3D printing in medicine. Purchasing a 3D printer and preparing fabrics and models for printing is the first step toward achieving the main goal. In the second phase, experimental synthetic tissue and organ models will be produced to enable surgeons to improve their operating practices. The next stage, which also seems realistic and achievable, is the creation of tissues and textures of the human body that could serve as implants. Potentially, such developments and the maintenance of research in this direction may open the prospect of developing and implanting more complex and textured organs of the human body. All this has an unconditional significance for medicine in general – by investing in progressive developments, the hospital can become the cradle of a number of scientific breakthroughs and innovations. At the same time, these developments turn out to be financially extremely profitable if the hospital really strives to use the possibilities of 3D modeling and printing in each of the possible medical industries.
Thus, the potential of 3D printing for an individual hospital can be very big both from a financial perspective and from the position of scientific progress. In the future, it will probably be impossible to imagine a medical operation without 3D planning and visualization. By acquiring innovative technology in advance, the hospital will be able to provide itself with a temporary advantage that will allow it to easily adapt to the subsequent requirements of future medicine.
3D printing to help train surgeons, shorten surgery times. (2017). 3D Printing Progress. Web.
Koffler, J., Zhu, W., Qu, X., Platoshyn, O., Dulin, J. N., Brock, J., Graham, L., Lu, P., Sakamoto, J., Marsala, M., Chen, S., & Tuszyski, M. H. (2019). Biomimetic 3D-printed scaffolds for spinal cord injury repair. Nature Medicine, 25, 263–269. Web.
Placone, J. K., & Engler, A. J. (2018). Recent advances in extrusion-based 3D Printing for biomedical applications. Advanced Healthcare Materials, 7(8). Web.
Wilk, R., Likus, W., Hudecki, A., Sygula, M., Różycka-Nechoritis, A., & Nechoritis, K. (2020). What would you like to print? Students’ opinions on the use of 3D printing technology in medicine. PLoS One, 15(4). Web.