Over the past 10 years, 3D printing has become a more accepted and better-understood manufacturing process. Many herald the new technology as revolutionary, if not transformative to a variety of industries, ranging from industrial design to manufacturing. Use of 3D printing technology is recognized as particularly impactful to the medical and health care industry, especially as it pertains to creating prosthetics, dental implants, casts, and medical devices, such as hearing aids.
In workers’ compensation, 3D printing has the potential to be a valuable means to provide highly-customized and cost-effective devices to an injured worker. However, the way these devices are designed, tested, quality controlled, medically insured, and delivered to the intended individual is yet to be understood with certainty. Also unanswered are the ways in which 3D printed devices will impact an injured worker’s capacity to return to work. Questions surrounding the supervision to avoid re-injury and compensability remain.
Innovation in medicine, including 3D printing, is critical to improving outcomes for injured workers. The prevalence of the use of 3D printing technology is not only growing (the field of 3D printing is expected to grow 25% by 2020*), but also changing to meet the needs of the individual. This growth and change encourages the industry to adapt to improvements quickly.
As medical research and policies surrounding innovative technologies advance and mature, the access to this type of care requires attention and thoughtful consideration. The use of 3D printing technology in workers’ compensation, as in overall healthcare, presents an opportunity to shorten recovery periods, accelerate healing, reduce costs, and increase customization for better fit and functionality.
Already curious about the design, costs, and process associated with 3D printing, as well as the potential risks and advantages related to this emerging technology, conversations with Jennifer Wolf Horejsh, executive director of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) spurred Helios to research existing stories and data. In doing so, they uncovered the exciting work underway at e-NABLE, their “3D Mechanical Hand—Maker Movement,” and the inspiring story of Peter Binkley who began researching and developing prosthetic 3D technology with his son Peregrine Hawthorn who was born without his left hand due to a congenital defect. Helios also learned of some impassioned research in progress at Rice University by a group of PhD candidates, including Samantha Paulsen, studying tissue regeneration and the potential ability to print 3D tissue and bone, complete with vascular channels.
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