One of the most promising innovations in recent years is the use of 3D printing. This innovative technology creates objects layer by layer using metal, plastic, and human tissue. Items that can be created by a 3D printer include human organs, prosthetic limbs, prescription pills, dental implants, human skin, and even casts. 3D printing is not only used to create implantable devices or prostheses, but also to recreate a patient's unique anatomy to help prepare surgeons for complicated procedures.
By 2019, 3D printing is expected to be used in one-third of surgeries requiring prosthetic and implanted devices, and the market for medical 3D printing is expected to reach $1.2 billion by 2020 (McConnon, 2017). While 3D printing is relatively new to the health care industry, 3D printing machines are available at an affordable rate and the objects produced do not cost much to make. An average printer can cost between $10,000 to $400,000 and an object can cost as little as $10 depending on the printing material used. This is great considering current spending in the health care industry. These units are created from a digital model and precision is very high which reduces medical waste (Hendricks, 2016).
While 3D printing is expected to have numerous benefits for health care, its limitations must be recognized. For example, it can take several hours to several days for a printer to recreate an object. In addition, engineers must accurately create the digital image with the help of CTs, MRI, and ultrasounds. Finally, the FDA has ultimate authority over 3D printing machines as they are considered medical devices and they also have the capability of producing medications. In 2015, the FDA approved the first 3D printed medication, Spritam, which is used to treat epilepsy (Kite-Powell, 2016). These medications can provide alternative treatment options for patients, but they must prove to safe and effective. 3D printing has a promising future and the health care industry is likely to benefit from its use.