The Monday afternoon session at RSNA (Radiological Society of North America) (#RSNA13) on 3D printing (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) and its application in medicine is one of a few sessions that can get your blood pumping again. The refreshing and exciting presentation demonstrated some early examples of 3D-printing in medicine including pre-surgical planning. Some of the beautiful 3D models from patients are shown here. The potential of 3D printing is only limited to imagination in all industries.
Because of the proximity of radiology to high resolution medical images and 3D visualization, it is not hard to postulate that 3D printing can very well be a significant part of radiology in the near future.
However, two important questions must be answered soon:
1. What are we going to print?
The current clinical applications are limited to surgical planning and prothesis manufacturing, especially in cardio-thoracic and orthopedic surgeries. Some have proposed potential application in research such as hemodynamics simulation. However, overall, there are still many limitations due to material and resolution.
2. What is the cost/benefit ratio?
Needless to say, there is no CPT coding for 3D-printing related activities since its superiority in its clinical use over other alternatives have not been clearly demonstrated. As sexy as 3D-printing (or additive manufacturing) sounds, the process of making a simple human skull takes as many as 30 hours using typical mid level printer, not accounting for the cost of human resource, space, and equipments.
That said, I am double downing on 3D-printing in radiology.
Having the advantage of living next to the headquarter of TechShop, I am getting ready to make my first brain soon.