Modern hospitals in the UK are faced with a variety of challenges. An aging population and budget cuts have left the NHS struggling to survive. Yet, the promise of 3D printing and its revolutionary potential may hold the key in revitalising the fortunes of hospitals in major cities and towns up and down the country.
More than just organs
3D printing is already transforming both intricate and complex situations in medicine. We’ve previously discussed the advances in the 3D printing of organs, reducing the need for donors (or ultimately replacing them altogether). However, there is scope for much broader changes.
Felix Doerr wrote about the Materialise conference, where a discussion on 3D printing for surgeries became one of the most popular talks:
“3D-printed models give surgeons a haptic impression of a situation and can serve as a tool for pre-operative planning and communication among surgeons or towards the family of the patient. Surgeons get a better idea of what they are facing, which could shorten the time in the operating room. I especially liked how there is a lot of collaboration between RWTH and the university hospital, only 5 minutes from one another.”
Creating a Better World
3D printing offers a vision of a more sustainable and efficient hospital ward, and smoother operation across a unit or even an entire hospital. As is the case with many 3D printing experiments, the use of recycled and recyclable materials is becoming the dominant factor, so we could see individual hospitals that act as stand alone factories, able to continually reproduce and recycle materials.
The United States has been at the forefront when it comes to 3D-printing innovations, and this is the case for medicine too. For example, with many hospitals across various states are starting to make a shift from using medical images primarily for diagnostic purposes, to integrating them in patient-specific surgical planning. This has created a huge advantage for hospitals and most specifically patients, and in turn could be emulated by the US medical industry as a whole.
Wide Ranging Advantages
3D printing, when used as a key tool, could simplify a range of complicated and often highly expensive procedures. Advancements in prosthetics and reconstructive surgery have already been made. Yet, there is a possibility of a sea-change on the cards that seems most alluring. General day-to-day check-ups and outpatient procedures could all be made easier through 3D printing, and could be key in keeping older people out of hospitals and in their communities.
The pressure on the NHS is intense. It is only able to provide its current level of service through the enormous sacrifices made by doctors and nurses. The UK government needs to give serious consideration to 3D-printing research and development, particularly its advantages to the medical industry as a whole.