Jan 16, 2018 | By Tess

While within the additive industry, 3D printed implants are being hailed as the future of healthcare solutions, the Belgian Federal Knowledge Center for Healthcare (KCE) has reported that the supposed benefits of using 3D printed implants are perhaps not as effective or convincing as we may have thought.

3D printed skull implant

According to a recent study done by the KCE, there is currently not enough evidence that 3D printed implants are “at least as safe and effective as conventional implants.” The organization claims that in the present system, the popularly quoted benefits of 3D printed implants are not exactly proven.

What are the supposed benefits of 3D printed implants? Proponents of the technology have claimed that 3D printed implants can offer better surgical results and recovery times, largely because they can be customized to the patient’s anatomy, rather than issued in standard sizes, like most traditional implants are.

Additionally, there is the argument that having a perfectly fitted implant can help to reduce surgery times, which not only reduces the risk for the patient, but also requires fewer hospital resources, which has the potential to reduce  overall operation costs.

Further, certain 3D printed implants are said to have better integration with the recipient’s body, as the implants can be built from strong but porous structures.

The KCE report addresses a few of these benefits and claims that at least some of them, such as better patient recovery and cheaper costs, can be disputed.

In short, the Belgium-based researchers did not find enough evidence to confirm that 3D printed implants would cut back on surgical times and thus would be cheaper to use. The KCE claims that based on its study, there is little to prove that 3D printed implants are “better, safer or more cost-effective” than standard implants.

Another aspect which could contribute to 3D printed implants not being cheaper than standard ones has to do with insurance. According to the KCE, patients may find it difficult to be reimbursed by the Belgian National Institute for Sickness and Invalidity Insurance (RIZIV) if their 3D printed implants are either too expensive or are not proven to be more effective than traditional implants.

“The reimbursement of a 3D implant at a higher price than the existing alternative is in principle only possible if the manufacturer can prove that his device is better than the alternative,” says the KCE. “If the manufacturer can not yet demonstrate the efficacy or if the requested price is high, the [RIZIV] can refuse the reimbursement…”

3D printed heel bone implant

The study suggests that 3D printing could be used to produce implants in situations where traditional implants are not well suited. In fact, it says that most doctors today would choose a classic implant over a 3D printed one given the choice, because they are still cheaper and faster to implant.

While the KCE report does cast some doubt on the immediate benefits of 3D printed implants, I’m not sure it will convince an entire industry to rethink its path. Rather, it seems the study is more reflective of the current state of 3D printed implants, which is still in its relatively early stages.

As 3D printing technologies become more advanced and accessible, and as certification processes for 3D printed parts become more standardized, there is little doubt that the stated benefits of 3D printed implants will become more concrete.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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