Jan 27, 2016 | By Kira

In order to ensure that as many citizens as possible have access to the life-saving medical procedures they need, Japan’s Central Social Insurance Medical Council, an organization of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, has this week announced that the cost of 3D printed organ models used to assist medical treatments and surgeries will be covered under the standard medical insurance payment range.

3D printed medical models have helped surgeons around the world plan and prepare for complex and risky operations, giving them the chance to practice on a full-scale, patient-specific model, alerting them to potential risks and complications before the patient even sets foot into the operating room. Using advanced CT image data and 3D scanning technology, doctors have been able to recreate accurate, customized 3D printed medical models of everything from 3D printed vascular systems to 3D printed hearts to 3D printed brain models.

While there are obvious benefits to using 3D printed organ models for both patient and doctor, there is also a significant drawback: the cost. Though 3D printing technology is often lauded as being both time and cost-efficient, this is often only the case if the hospital in question already owns a 3D printer and its requisite accessories—not to mention hiring skilled 3D scanning experts or 3D printer operators. The truth is that the initial set up fees, as well as subsequent operation costs and material costs, can be prohibitively expensive, and in most healthcare systems, these costs often end up being passed on to the patient or their families.

Professor Toshiaki Morikawa gives a lesson while using a 3D-printed lung at the Jikei University hospital in Tokyo

By covering the cost of 3D printed organ models, the Japanese medical system will potentially help countless patients receive the advanced medical care they need, regardless of whether or not they could normally afford it. Although the exact coverage details may differ from policy to policy, this is nevertheless a huge step forward for the medical 3D printing industry in Japan, which will now have wider access to patients in need of specific, customized 3D printed medical models.

In addition to approving 3D printed organ models, Japan’s Central Social Insurance Medical Council also announced that 13 other advanced medical treatment technologies will be covered by national health insurance. These include proton therapy treatments targeting children’s’ cancer, heavy particle radiation therapy, and the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic surgical system made by American company Intuitive Surgical that is designed to facilitate complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach.

Though we have seen 3D printed medical models play an important, life-saving role in hospitals around the world, Japan in particular has made some groundbreaking 3D medical advancements. Recently, Japanese scientists have developed 3D printed liver models, ultra-realistic 3D printed organs, and most recently, 3D bioprinted bones, joints and human skin. Hopefully, Japan’s move towards making 3D printed medical models more accessible and affordable to its citizens will help to initiate similar movements by healthcare institutions and governments around the world.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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