3D Printing in Hospitals: Challenges and Solutions, a Children Hospital Perspective

Want to write a piece for 3DHEALS Expert Corner? Email us: info@3dheals.com

Medical 3D printing is becoming more mainstream with the announcements of FDA 510K cleared software vendors, certified 3D printing systems, and preliminary data tracking and reimbursement such as the Category III CPT codes 0559T, 0560T, 0561T, and 0562T to be later implemented July 1, 2019, for 3D printed anatomic models and guides. All of this news has been long awaited within this growing field, but many challenges still await us. As the engineer responsible for the operations of the 3D Printing Center at Washington University Campus, which supports all of the BJC HealthCare enterprises including St. Louis Children’s Hospital, I’m constantly working towards solutions to cases requiring 24 hour turnarounds, creating seamless integration of our center’s services with standing hospital IT infrastructure, and of course, keeping the center’s books in the black. 

One of the challenges I’m working to address is, how will we stand out when more and more hospitals adopt 3D printing? Most children’s hospitals with 3D printing capabilities have a few highlighted high-risk patient cases, which is great for the hospital and those stories have the potential to attract philanthropic donors. However, should the 3D printing center specialize in one area over others in order to stand out? Some centers focus more on surgical simulation, one surgical specialty, or sometimes even one certain surgical procedure. Or at the end of the day, is it more about volume?

Arguably, one of the biggest challenges in ramping up a medical 3D printing center is predicting the volume of surgical procedures the center will support in its first 5 years (aside from personnel, capital, and space).

For anyone not familiar with this practice, this is one of the factors your business development team takes into consideration when generating the hypothetical ROI. Within any hospital, the volume may be difficult to estimate, especially in pediatrics, where we try to avoid exposing such young patients to the harmful side effects of MRI and CT, if we can get the patient to lie still long enough that is.

Going one step further is the integration of 3D printing and high-quality 3D dataset protocols so that we don’t have to re-image the patient if the referring physician or surgeon would like model days or weeks after the patient has been imaged or has returned home. 

Returning home in good health, that’s something we all want for our patients. I often forget how many of our patients are unaware of how this technology is used in healthcare. Recently, a group of students was touring the hospital as part of a STEM program. A great joy of mine is to explain to a child how a 3D model is made and why we decided to 3D print it that way. Mainstream or not, this technology is still disrupting healthcare, not just limited to what happens on campus, but also by exposing the next generation to it.

About the Author:

Robert Wesley is a Tennessee native who started his career at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. It was there he was introduced to in-hospital 3D printing. As a biomedical engineer in pediatric cardiac surgery, he worked to expand the hospital’s 3D printing capabilities and vision beyond its congenital heart program. A couple of years later he did consult work for a few southeastern children’s hospitals with emerging 3D printing programs, before finding his way to St. Louis Children’s Hospital of BJC HealthCare. In St. Louis, Robert runs the operations of the 3D Printing Center at Washington University Medical campus which services all 15 BJC hospitals, Washington University School of Medicine, and local/regional hospitals, under the direction of Christine Pavlak, Dr. Shafkat Anwar, Dr. Kamlesh Patel, and Dr. Eric Eutsler.