May 17, 2020

How accessible 3D printing can improve quality of life

3D Printing
healthcare services
healthcare services
​​​​​​​Siert Wijnia, CTO and C...
4 min
3D printing - Elizabeth Tilburg
Recent updates to the Worldwide Semiannual 3D Printing Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC) indicate that global spending on 3D prin...

Recent updates to the Worldwide Semiannual 3D Printing Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC) indicate that global spending on 3D printing (including hardware, materials, software, and services) is set to grow to $12.0 billion in 2018 - an increase of 19.9% over 2017.

After discrete manufacturing, healthcare providers will represent the second largest industry sector, with an expected total spend of nearly $1.3 billion in 2018.

However, healthcare professionals have already made a huge impact on people’s lives through 3D printing, without spending significant sums of money. The following are some inspiring 3D print initiatives for World Health Day, from life-changing printed objects, to simple, yet powerful solutions that help to make hospitalised time just a little bit better.

3D printing prosthetic limbs for refugees

In early 2018, the inspiring story of Doctors Without Borders provided significant food for thought. Pierre Moreau, the clinical coordinator of the 3D Project for Doctors Without Borders in Jordan, volunteered at a reconstructive-surgery hospital where war-wounded patients from Syria, Iraq and Yemen received treatment. As civilians, most of them had suffered amputations resulting from the regional conflicts.

In the video, Moreau explains some of the challenges associated with conventional prosthetics, including a high degree of time, cost, and skilled professionals. However, as the raw materials used to produce a prosthetic arm cost less than 30 USD, using 3D printing to create a prosthesis is significantly cheaper.

A prosthetic arm consists of a socket, forearm, and hand. The socket is the interface between the stump and the prosthesis. Both the socket and the hand are printed with a flexible type of plastic, called Polyurethane, to match the patient’s anatomy, and give them a greater range of motion. The forearm is printed with a harder plastic material, for greater rigidity.

Ahmed is one of many patients who Pierre Moreau helped. At the age of 14, a barrel dropped from a plane, which landed near him and exploded, causing him to lose his left arm. After creating several prototypes, Pierre Moreau printed and post-processed a functional prosthetic arm, giving Ahmed the ability to look ahead and pursue his dreams again. In the future, he hopes the become an engineer and build houses.

Sick children, or makers of the future?

Dr. Gokul Krishnan founded an Innovation Pop-Up Space at Stanford Children’s Health

together with the help of some of their patients, such as Ariana, who has been diagnosed with lymphoma and was hospitalised for several months. Children that are hospitalised are often bored and find themselves sitting around and waiting for their next treatment.

This Innovation Pop-Up Space gives these children - and their siblings - an educational opportunity to spend their time usefully and learn how to work with the latest techniques to create their own inventions. The unique space gives patients the chance to work with Ultimaker 3D printers, electronic building blocks, computers, cameras and other tools they can use to invent and build their own creations.

The children that have come down to the Innovation Pop-Up Space feel an increased sense of control over their lives. So-called Maker Therapy allows children to spend their time more productively, stimulate their creativity, and give them the opportunity to be more than a sick child, but true pioneers with unique new technical skills that they can benefit from for the rest of their lives.

Improved surgical planning with 3D printing

3D printing literally gives surgical planning an extra dimension. Up until now, surgical procedures are prepared by carefully analysing detailed CT-scans on screens. However, a 3D print of a complex fracture could provide an important added value, especially when planning trauma surgery.

Dr. Mike Bemelman (trauma surgeon), and Dr. Lars Brouwers (MSc and promovendus) are currently investigating the added value of the 3D printing techniques to improve complex surgeries and reduce the time and costs concerned with these treatments.

A 3D-printed anatomical model gives surgeons the opportunity to practice difficult surgeries up-front, and precisely bend titanium plates for implant before the actual surgery starts, reducing operation time. Consultation between surgeons and patients has also been helped by 3D printing: a patient can better understand the complexity of his or her specific situation when bone fractures can be seen and held from different perspectives, when compared to a 2D scan on a screen. Even though the work of Dr. Mike Bemelman and Dr. Lars Brouwers is still in the investigatory phase, the initial results seem promising. Smart software solutions are able to transform CT scan files in to a 3D-printable STL file in no time, without any interference from the hospital’s IT department. This ease of use gives surgeons the opportunity to easily embed 3D printing into their existing workflow.

These are just a few examples of how accessible 3D printing has already made a huge impact on healthcare. As the technology advances yet further, there is ample opportunity for other healthcare innovators to adopt 3D printing, in order to continue to create solutions that improve the quality of life for those that need it the most

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Jun 11, 2021

How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog

6 min
UiPath software robots are helping clinicians at Dublin's Mater Hospital save valuable time

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover

However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time. 

When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic? 
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses. 

The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020. 

The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides. 

What tasks do they perform? 
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day. 

UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work. 

Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans? 
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.  

Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can. 

Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved? 
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients. 

In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing. 

How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond? 
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted. 

Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.

Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast. 

The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues. 

How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.  

Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology. 

Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally. 

How do you see this technology evolving in the future? 
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise. 

By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too. 

We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money. 

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