3D Printing in Healthcare – The Promise and Potential of This Technology

3D Printing in Healthcare

3D printing is offering a range of opportunities in healthcare. These include personalized medicine, medical equipment production, and optimized supply chains.

In addition, it is also assisting in surgical decision support. For example, surgeons can use 3D-generated models as anatomical guides during surgery. This significantly reduces the time it takes to complete the procedure.

Surgical Guides

3D printing in healthcare is a promising new technology that can revolutionize the way patients are treated. It can be used for a variety of applications, including surgical guides, medical devices, and prosthetics. The promise of this technology is that it can provide healthcare organizations with tools that can help to improve patient outcomes, reduce costs and improve healthcare delivery.

Several studies have shown that the use of 3D-printed anatomical models can decrease surgical procedure length, reducing hospital stay and postoperative complications while improving outcomes. Additionally, it can lower the risk of hospital-acquired infections and reduce post-surgical readmission rates.

The first step in the process of using 3D-printed anatomical models is the development of an accurate digital model of the patient’s anatomy. This model will be used to create a surgical guide that will aid the surgeon during the operation.

One of the most important benefits of 3D-printed anatomical models is their ability to create a personalized surgical guide that is specifically tailored to the needs of each individual patient. This ensures that the patient’s surgery is as effective as possible, and it also means that surgeons are more prepared to perform the procedure correctly.

A surgeon can then use this personalized surgical guide during the procedure, which will make it easier for the surgeon to position the implant successfully. The surgeon can then perform the surgery in a more efficient manner, which will lead to a faster recovery time and a better outcome for the patient.

Another advantage of using 3D-printed anatomical model surgical guides is that they can be produced quickly and cost-effectively. This enables the surgeon to spend more time on the patient, and less on pre-operative preparations.

Various studies have reported that patient-specific surgical guides can increase the accuracy of placement of implants, which is essential to ensure the long-term success of bone replacement surgery. This can be particularly important when it comes to biopsies, since it may mean that the surgeon can accurately place the biopsy without causing any damage to the surrounding tissue.

However, there are a number of disadvantages that come along with the use of patient-specific surgical guides. These include the extra costs associated with these systems, the fact that they require outsourced manufacturing steps, the purely geometric approach that they possess, and the fact that they can be complicated when dealing with soft tissues.


One area that has seen a lot of success with 3D printing is prosthetics, which are devices that replace missing parts of the body. Prosthetic devices can help people with disabilities get back to their daily lives more easily. This is because they are designed specifically for each individual, and can be adapted to suit their needs.

The process of getting a prosthetic limb begins with a patient going through a series of rehabilitation stages to make sure they are able to regain their mobility. This includes working with a physical therapist to get the right equipment, taking measurements, and undergoing a digital scan of the residual limb.

Using 3D printing, these patients can have their prosthetics made to match their unique shape and size. This can reduce the time it takes from design to production, and ensure that they are able to receive their device quickly and efficiently.

These prosthetics can be produced with a high level of accuracy, making them more comfortable and durable than traditional alternatives. They are also very affordable, allowing more people to have them.

For example, a company called Partial Hand Solutions uses additive manufacturing to create prosthetic hands for amputees all over the world. They have been in business since 2007 and have been able to create functional devices that work well for both children and adults with amputations.

Another benefit of 3D printing is that it can be used to create anatomical models of a patient’s limb, which can then be used in the development of new surgical procedures or to test unique surgical methods. This can improve the outcomes of medical operations and save costs.

Additionally, 3D printing can be used to create plastic casts that are lightweight and can be customized to fit a patient’s limb. This is especially beneficial when a patient’s limb changes in size or shape over time.

There are also many NGOs that are using 3D printing to create prosthetics that can be made cheaply and quickly for people in war-torn areas. For example, Not Impossible has taken 3D printers to Sudan, where the chaos of the war has left many people with amputated limbs. The organization has trained locals to use the machines, creating patient-specific limbs that are very inexpensive and easy to fit.

Drug Development

3D printing offers a variety of potential benefits in the drug development process; it could accelerate early-stage drug discovery by replacing 2D cell culture models which are ineffective in generating an accurate representation of human physiology. It also offers a cost-effective and eco-friendly method of medicine manufacture that is capable of producing personalized formulations with minimal drug and excipient wastage.

In terms of drug delivery, 3D-printed medications could be produced on demand within a decentralized setting, such as within a pharmacy or clinic, and this would allow for rapid and flexible supply to patients, potentially leading to improved access to medicines. The technology can also be used for pre-clinical and early-phase clinical trials to produce small batches of dose-flexible drug products on demand to evaluate safety and efficacy.

The use of additive manufacturing (AM) for the production of personalized oral dosage forms is currently being explored through a range of technologies, including fused deposition modeling (FDM), selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SL), binder jet printing (BJ) and direct powder extrusion (DPE).

These technologies have been successfully demonstrated to produce a number of unique pharmacological and therapeutically beneficial customized formulations, including emulsified tablets, gastro-retentive tablets, and suppositories as well as polyprintlets, a flexible multi-drug combination that can be rapidly dissolving or controlled release.

Personalized drug dosages are a key part of precision medicine, whereby the correct medication is administered at the right time and to the right patient to treat their specific health condition. This can be achieved through a wide range of AM processes, including three-dimensional printing (3DP), which has the ability to produce bespoke, unique dosage forms and personalized medicines, either in a centralized, industrial environment or as a distributed, point-of-care supply system.

As well as this, AM technologies enable on-demand, tunable dosages of single and multiple drugs – which can improve treatment efficacy while reducing the risk of adverse events owing to inaccurate dosing. This is particularly helpful for patients with long-term conditions and a high risk of drug reactions, as they may not have the capacity to take large or complex doses.


Healthcare professionals are beginning to utilize 3D printing technology for a number of reasons. This includes creating patient-specific models of a patient’s anatomy to help plan surgery and making products that fit the patient’s body to improve the quality of medical devices and prosthetics.

Students and residents are also leveraging this technology to develop research projects. One example is a team of University at Buffalo students and faculty working on developing 3D-printed model fetuses that can be used for repeated vaginal ultrasounds to better diagnose conditions in the uterus. These models, which are suspended in gel blocks, can depict a wide range of ultrasound-detected conditions and are easy to use.

This method of preparing a model of a patient’s anatomy is more cost-effective than using cadaveric specimens or a live animal and provides more realistic models. Compared to cadaveric specimens, students and residents using these models have shown higher test scores and satisfaction with the learning experience.

The models are often created by scanning anatomical data such as a CT or MRI image. The scanned images are then translated into a digital format and printed layer by layer with a 3D printer.

Unlike cadaveric specimens, these models can be made from a variety of materials and are easier to manipulate for the surgeon. These models are also more accurate and can be used in surgical planning and training, improving the accuracy of the medical procedure.

These models are also helpful for preoperative patient consultation and training, allowing doctors to explain the condition in more detail and increase patients’ confidence in their treatment. This approach of using 3D models to educate patients is an emerging trend in medical education.

This is an exciting development that has the potential to change the way doctors approach their work and patients’ lives. The technology has also facilitated advances in individualized medicine, where doctors are able to tailor treatment to each individual’s unique needs.

This technology is rapidly expanding and will continue to expand as more hospitals and medical systems adopt it.


In conclusion, 3D printing in healthcare offers a wide range of potential benefits and is a rapidly evolving field. It has the potential to revolutionize medical care, allowing for the production of patient-specific models and devices. This technology is cost-effective, eco-friendly, and can offer personalized treatment and improved outcomes. As 3D printing technology continues to develop and become more widely used, it could prove to be an invaluable tool in the healthcare industry.


About the Author: Julie Souza

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