The Rise of 3D Printing and What It Could Mean for Medical Care

On Behalf of | Oct 14, 2017 | Medical Malpractice


In case you missed it, 3D printing is on the rise in the United States (and the world). And it’s not just for design models anymore.

According to Wohlers Associates’ annual report, the 3D-printing industry surpassed $5.1 billion worldwide in 2016. 3D printing has become an essential component of innovation in many fields. Arguably, one of the most important uses of 3D printers today is in medical care. Here’s how medical researchers and practitioners are utilizing 3D printing technology:

  • Often, the most difficult obstacle for doctors attempting to diagnosis a serious condition is simply not being able to see the entire picture. This is where 3D printing comes in handy. While imaging tools like MRI already help practitioners get a better picture of the issue, viewing an image on a 2D screen does not allow a doctor to view the shape and surface characteristics as accurately as a 3D model.

A perfect example of this involves the brain, where treatment that is precise down to the millimeter is a matter of a life or death. Darin T. Okuda, M.D., and his team at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas discovered just how useful 3D printing can be when diagnosing patients with multiple sclerosis. Okuda’s team was better able to asses the size and shape of lesions on the brain causing MS, allowing them to make a much more accurate diagnosis.

  • 3D-printing treatment options are making perhaps an even bigger splash in the healthcare field than diagnostics. This is because many treatments that previously involved an expensive manufacturing process can now be 3D-printed to fit the patient’s specific needs at a cheaper cost.

A report in the US National Library of Medicine highlighted treatment applications doctors are currently using in the healthcare field. These include hearing aids, dental work like crowns and bridges, prostheses, and implants for the pelvis, trachea, and large parts of the skull. These applications are pushing the medical field toward increasingly inexpensive and personalized care options.

The Downside of “Cutting Edge” Treatment

While up to this point, you might think this article sounds like an ad for a 3D printer, it’s important to also acknowledge the downside of 3D printers in the healthcare industry. Like any other cutting-edge treatment, there is a lot that even experts in the field don’t know about the technology and possible side effects. 3D-printed products may fail, and when that product is a life-saving device for a medical patient, there can be serious repercussions.

If a 3D-printed treatment does go wrong, the patient may have a case for medical malpractice. In this scenario, the 3D-printer company, the software designer, the doctor, and/or the hospital could all be potentially liable. Medical malpractice could occur if implanting a 3D-printed device is done incorrectly, the risks of a 3D device are not sufficiently explained, or the practitioner did not have complete knowledge of the product before using it.

Because 3D-printed devices are so new, it is imperative to seek the advice of an expert who can conduct research, get all of the facts, and determine liability if the technology goes wrong and harms a patient. At Norton & Norfleet, P.C., we specialize in medical malpractice cases and offer a free consultation. If you have questions about a medical issue, call us (816) 607-4750.


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