You need only to look at the last presidential election to realize that healthcare is a hot topic in this country. If you polled Americans on the street, most would admit that healthcare in this country is broken, but almost every single person would have a different reason for why that’s the case, and how to fix it. However, you will hear the same themes repeated over and over – healthcare costs are too high, drugs and treatments cost too much and access to care is spotty.
And they would all be right.
According to numbers by the World Health Organization from 2014, the U.S. spends more on healthcare per capita than any other nation. It also spends more as a percentage of its GDP. But all of that spending doesn’t necessarily mean we’re any healthier.
A report issued by the Commonwealth Fund compares the performance of the healthcare communities in eleven countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States – and has repeatedly and consistently ranked the U.S. last.
Experts disagree on the reasons for this poor performance – almost as much as our imaginary people on the street – but the fact remains, the U.S. pays a lot to keep its people healthy, and doesn’t necessarily get a lot in return. And with much of this spending being done by the U.S. government with taxpayer dollars, calls to find a way to cut healthcare costs are both understandable and reasonable.
So how do we accomplish that?
Cheaper devices, cheaper care
One of the many drivers of healthcare costs in this country – which could also include high administrative costs, a rise in chronic disease and other factors – is the high cost of new technologies, medical devices and drugs.
So, what if we could make these things cheaper? Well, that is exactly what some researchers and doctors are looking to do with 3D printing.
3D printing, a form of additive manufacturing that results in the creation of 3D objects by successively adding layers of a material, is seeing increasing use in the healthcare industry as a way of making medical devices. These devices can either be mass produced more quickly and efficiently, or made specifically for an individual patient based on their unique situation and needs.
3D printing can also be used by doctors to create models for simulations prior to surgeries.
As Mayo Clinic radiologist, Jonathan Morris, recently told Reuters, “We’ve put manufacturing inside the hospital. The hospital does not make implants but can simulate body parts to help surgeons decide how to do an operation, or can make guides for cutting and drilling during surgery, he said.”
Ultimately, as the technology involves, it’s expected that 3D printing will allow doctors to make customized prosthetics, stents and other expensive medical devices on site – specifically for individual patients – in a short period of time. The cost of these devices should be lower than those manufactured traditionally, and they should deliver better outcomes since they’re made specifically for the individual patient.
This potential is one of the reasons why Insight Partners, a market research and analyst firm, predicts that the market for 3D printing in healthcare could, “expand at a compound annual growth rate of 11.7% during the forecast period (2016 – 2024).” They valued the global 3D printed medical device market at $412.2 million in 2015.
The role of digital design
To print these customized prosthetics, stents and other medical devices, 3D printers need to be guided by a set of plans – a virtual representation of the physical device or object that they’re going to be creating. The creation of these 3D models is done in advanced digital design software solutions that help to streamline the creation process and get products from conceptualization to fabrication quickly.
Utilizing 3D printing and advanced digital design solutions, doctors, researchers and medical device manufacturers are finding it possible to generate implants and materials that more closely resemble and act like organic materials. Take Novax DMA for example. This Argentinian company is utilizing digital design tools and 3D printing to create porous materials that more closely behave and resemble the mineral densities of human bone matter.
Utilizing advanced digital design solutions and 3D printing, the medical field could be opening the door to a new generation of treatments and medical devices that are not only more effective, but cost less. With our country investing heavily in the health of its citizens, and with healthcare costs continuing to skyrocket, this could be one of many necessary steps to helping get healthcare costs back under control.