3D Printing helps medicine become more personal

Bryan VanMeter

Advanced visualization software combined with 3D printing has great potential for improving physician collaboration, patient care and patient engagement. Not surprisingly, radiology departments that have added 3D printed models as a service line extension to advanced visualization reviews are receiving positive feedback from multiple downstream stakeholders.   This is because 3D printed models provide a tactile feel and tangible depth of information about anatomy and pathology which elevates the radiologist’s insights, findings and recommendations.   Additionally, the 3D models are used as aids for surgical planning, multi- disciplinary collaboration and to improve a patient’s understanding of their condition.

Specifically, these tangible, life-sized anatomical models are helpful for planning the surgical approach, as a reference during the surgery and as an effective communication tool pre and post procedure with the patient and their family.  Early adopters of printed 3D models have been for complex oromaxillary (sinuses) and craniofacial reconstructive surgery. The plastic surgeons performing these surgeries feel the 3D models help to improve safety, efficiency and reduce operating room time. Additionally, chest and abdominal surgical procedures which require a team of subspecialty surgeons are seeing physical models as an exceptional facilitating tool for collaboration. All surgical and interventional procedures with complex pathology, extensive resection and/or extensive reconstructions could benefit from this technology:   Orthopedics, Cardiovascular, Otorhinolaryngology, Abdominal, Oncology and Neurosurgery.

Additionally, these physical models that are identical to the patient’s structure have the potential to significantly improve the patients understanding of informed consent. Consider the benefits to patients that can actually hold their abnormal anatomy in their hand or a parent being able to virtually touch and feel their child’s pathological condition. These 3D models can help the actual customers of healthcare truly understand their problem, what their physicians intend to do to correct it and the risks they are taking in pursuit of a solution.

The next evolution of advanced visualization is clearly 3D printing and it’s frequently presented as a tool to aid in complex surgical planning. However, considering the current emphasis and financial benefits of personalized medicine and patient engagement, isn’t providing patients with the ability to see, touch and palpably interact with their maladies something what would significantly benefit routine surgeries and therapeutic interaction as well?


Three-dimensional Physical Modeling: Applications and Experience at Mayo Clinic. RadioGraphics November-December 2015, Volume 35 number 7, 1989-2006.

Medical 3D Printing for the Radiologist. RadioGraphics November-December 2015, Volume 35 number 7, 1965-1988.

Cross Section Heart Model

Image courtesy of Stratasys (www.stratasys.com)

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