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5 myths about 3D modeling for orthopedic surgery planning, busted!

  • Orthopaedics
  • Pre-operative Planning
  • Innovation
  • 3D Print Labs
3D modeling and printing has been around since the 1980s, with use of the technology in healthcare growing year on year. Now, 3D modeling for orthopedic surgery is becoming common practice for physicians across the world dealing with complex cases. But despite the obvious benefits that 3D models deliver, there remain doubts in the minds of some physicians about their value, usability and usefulness in orthopedic surgery. We’ve broken down some of the most common myths about 3D modeling here, so that you can make up your own mind.

3D anatomical models don’t add enough value

This is a typical misunderstanding by physicians who haven’t yet tried 3D modeling. The experience of an increasing number of physicians around the world who now rely on patient-specific 3D models for surgical planning is quite the opposite. Indeed, there is a growing body of published medical study data that is quantifying the transformative benefits of the use of 3D printed models for surgical planning. In a recent study of 100 cases, amazingly 52% of physicians reported that they changed their plan for a complex surgery when they used a 3D model during planning, with a further 47% reporting the models helped them confirm the optimal plan much faster and with more certainty, compared to relying solely on 2D MRI and CT images. Planning procedures aided by 3D models leads to an average reduction of 62 minutes per case while patient recovery times are on average 16% faster.

3D modeling is too expensive

This statement would have been true before the 2010s, when 3D printers were expensive both to buy and to use. But with recent technology advancements, some of the highest quality 3D printers now cost as little as $5,000 and can sit on a desk in a lab or even in a doctor’s office, as opposed to needing an expensively fitted out 3D printing laboratory. There are many options available to physicians hoping to begin using 3D modeling that were not available just ten years ago. These include being able to outsource the process of transforming 2D images into 3D printable models, which means you don’t need to invest in equipment, staff and resources to get started. Similarly, processes that just a few years ago would have taken a specially trained engineer hours to complete can now be performed almost instantly using Artificial Intelligence. This has revolutionized 3D print labs across the world, reducing the ‘hands on’ time per model by hours – increasing output and quality without increasing costs.

It takes too long to get a 3D anatomical model

Until recently, the typical experience of a physician ordering a 3D printed model was that it could take weeks to arrive. This lengthy turnaround time meant that 3D printed models could only be considered for a small number of surgical procedures. This protracted delivery time was in part due to the speed of 3D printers. However, the primary delay was that the process of turning 2D MRI and CT images into 3D print files took many hours and required highly expert and scarce individuals to do the work. Right now, it is possible to automatically turn 2D images into 3D print files in a matter of minutes and for models to be printed at the hospital in a few hours. Therefore, 3D modeling can be used for most surgical procedures even in the most time-sensitive cases.

We’ll need to invest in lots of equipment and staff to get 3D modeling in our hospital

Even though the adoption of 3D printing is growing rapidly in the US, still only around 10% of hospitals have 3D printers. But this need not be a barrier to using 3D modeling for surgical planning. Rather than relying on an in-house 3D print lab, the physician can simply order the model from a skilled 3D printing company, just by sending them their patient’s MRI or CT scan. The model arrives by courier on the physician’s desk in as little as 72 hours. An added advantage of outsourcing 3D modeling is that the hospital will benefit from the latest technologies without having to update, upgrade or purchase new equipment.

3D printers can only produce small parts of anatomy

The size of the anatomy that can be printed has historically been limited by the volume of the 3D printers available. Today, with technology advancements, many 3D printers can print much larger anatomical structures, such as a whole spine and rib structures in one piece. This makes a 3D model an increasingly useful tool for physicians treating complex cases. Take these two spine models for example, both printed on the Formlabs 3L printer – a new affordable large format resin printer.