The FDA recently released draft guidelines on additive manufacturing (3D printing) for medicine and medical devices, so let's see how 3D printing has been improving the lives of patients for years, and what all this means for healthcare marketers.
After Spitz posted his timely abridged history of 3D printing to this very blog last week, I was inspired to share some of my knowledge of the field and of how 3D printing has been improving the lives of patients for years! Spitz mentioned in the last post that I have an interest in 3D printing for prosthetics, and so I’m going to expand on that and talk about how 3D printing stands to completely revolutionize how prosthetics are being viewed by patients and clinicians alike.
Restoring more than mobility
For many years, the notion of a prosthetic limb being able to restore full or near function to a patient was a pipe dream. While that’s always been the goal of a prosthetist, until recently the technologies didn’t exist to empower that goal. People could sustain only marginal improvements in performance, and often chose to simply use a wheelchair or not wear a prosthetic. Now with improvements in carbon fibre weaving, composite materials, computer modelling and simulation, and lower cost microprocessors prosthetic limbs are moving patients closer and closer to regaining 100% of the mobility and functionality they’ve suffered the loss of.
Even the popularity of smartphones has made improvements in prosthetic patient outcomes. (And not just because they’ve driven the cost of lightweight, high capacity lithium battery technology down. The latest microprocessor controlled knees have a nearly week long battery life!) With patients and clinician’s now being able to utilize smartphone apps to make the necessary and previously mechanically complicated incremental adjustments to patient’s prostheses, the future is bright!
So as the base mechanics of a prosthetic begin to be covered off a new area of focus has arisen. One of patient comfort, of mental well-being and of radical new forms of artful personal expression. We’re beginning to understand more and more that simply restoring a person’s mobility isn’t the whole story. Empowered by 3D printing, we can now begin to restore their sense of self.
My interest in this field began when I was very young. I was always enamoured by prosthetics in one form or another, for whatever reason. Be it my young affinity for Luke Skywalker, who famously gained a prosthetic hand after his first fateful duel with Darth Vader. (Very emotionally impactful for a toddler in the early 80’s.) Or perhaps it was another hero, more close to home: Terry Fox, the Canadian teenager who attempted to run his way from coast to coast across the continent on a prosthetic leg in The Marathon of Hope. His goal was to raise awareness and money for Cancer research, something his proud legacy has done. Either way, my interest was primed at a very young age, and a healthy obsession kicked off in 2011, when Scott Summit, an industrial designer from San Fransisco, took to the TED stage to talk about his company’s beautiful prosthetic limbs.
Scott helmed the first of a growing number of companies who used 3D printing to create beautiful, artful and very personal decorative covers, or fairings for patients. But these covers go beyond simple adornment. They restore a patients sense of self; their very personal biometric shape. These new breed of companies use 3D scanning techniques to scan the sound side limb of the patient, and flip the 3D scan to get a highly accurate shape from which to begin creating the prosthetic adornments. The result is a manufacturing process that, unlike traditional mass production, is designed to create an entirely unique and personalized product, every single time.
3D printing allows these companies to give the patient something that is custom made to fit the silhouette and body shape outline they identify as themselves. One 15 year old patient who was wearing a UNYQ brand cover that I spoke to at Klick’s Idea’s Exchange event in Philadelphia last year said to me “It lets me wear skinny jeans again!”
Our Pharmaceutical and Medical Device clients are all recognizing more and more these days that they must go beyond the pill to offer personal, tailored services and experiences for their patients. And the FDA’s guidelines for 3D printing are a great step in the right direction for many to be able to provide this. And things are changing rapidly.
Another step forward
Scott Summit’s Bespoke Innovations used a complex scanning and measurement system to generate a three dimensional image of a patient’s sound side limb. At the time state of the art, the scan was relatively quick and non-invasive, but still required the patient to visit the Bespoke offices. A new breed of company carrying on the legacy of Bespoke, has put the power to perform this scanning into the palms of the Prosthetists.
UNYQ is a company who has developed their own technique for creating the three dimensional model using only a mobile phone camera. Something a patient is already very comfortable with and won’t be daunted by. And the scans are being done in the Prosthetists office. A place the patient is already comfortable going to for care and adjustments to their functional prosthetic.
Once the 3D scan is created, the patient is able to shop for their new leg design, from a variety of different and expressive base options. With a simple collection of app guided photographs and measurements, UNYQ is able to create a custom 3D printed cover that attaches to the patient’s functional prosthetic, that mirrors the exacting dimensions of their other limb. No two pieces they create are exactly the same and the result is a patient who’s getting more personal care, in a much less formal environment, all powered by the incredible advancements mobile health technology and 3D printing.
What’s next for Klick’s clients?
These advancements in mobile powered, 3D printed, bespoke manufacturing capabilities are just getting moving, and they are here to stay. As the price of these technologies falls, the social climate and hunger for such solutions grows along with them. Not only are these new breeds of companies creating new types of products and services, but they’re responding to a growing social climate and patient/consumer base that’s demanding a deeper personalization and meaning in their treatment options.
What does this mean for our clients? Well here at Klick Labs, we’re a collection of curious and hungry tech natives. We live and breath the latest technological innovations and are always peering across the cutting edge of what’s possible. We do this in order to find the next way we can leverage these new technologies in service of the wholistic healthcare experiences of the future.
Whether it’s empowering your reps to communicate a drugs benefits more clearly, or empowering a clinician to make more personal adjustments to a medical device or treatment algorithm with less effort and more trackable reliability, digital health is revolutionizing the way we do business. It’s empowering us to serve our patients highly specific and evolving needs, and that’s great for everybody.
If you have a specific patient need you’re looking to address, reach out to us at Klick Labs and get a conversation started. There may be an innovative solution lying in wait to be unlocked from within an emerging technology already!