Cornell Insurance Blog

3D Printing in Healthcare: Innovation & Risk

Posted by Cornell Insurance Services on Sep 14, 2015 11:30:00 AM


Growth and Innovation

In recent years, 3D printing has opened doors to many possibilities, primarily in healthcare. Within the last two years, patients have received 3D printed products, some resulting in lives being saved. “3D printing has advanced the production of personalized medical products, including implants, prostheses, devices, surgical guides and models. Those products are created using patient specific data to create truly personalized devices that are helping to advance medicine in a number of fields,” Dr. Alasdair Stewart stated. The 3D printing industry for healthcare is projected to reach $2.879 billion in 2019.

Doctors have printed anatomically accurate replicas of a liver and heart, down to the last vein. These replicas make surgeries safer during tricky procedures. The heart replicas created by the 3D printing have been helpful during surgeries with babies, allowing doctors to perform more detailed procedures and in two cases, dramatically extended the baby’s projected life span.

Earlier in 2015, three babies with life-threatening breathing problems were implanted with 4D biomaterial. The implant was made with a 3D printer, using living cells. 4D is when the 3D printed material will change shape over time, adjusting to the children as they grow. It was a simple procedure and will benefit babies of the future.

Another inspiring story is the development of prosthetics with the use of 3D printing. Children were able to design their own prosthetics, thanks to e-NABLE. Most children do not get traditional transradial prosthetics because they cost $10,000 to $20,000 and children would grow out of it in a few years. 3D printers make it possible to be made for only a few hundred dollars and children are given hope for a more accessible life.

So what’s the problem?

With all of the new innovations occurring in healthcare, what are the risks? While 3D printing is giving healthcare a new shape, it is still early on in the trial period to know what the long term effects of these products could potentially become. A child receiving an implant would need it to last 50+ years but there is no guarantee if the 3D printed pieces will make it past ten years.

Another question that arises is who would be held accountable for a malfunction? There are many tiers built into the manufacturing of a piece it is hard to place blame. There is the manufacturer who made the 3D printer, the wholesaler, the designer who input the blueprint for the printer to read and make the product and the doctor who performed the surgery. With many different jobs put into the creation, who is truly to place fault on?

Laws still need to be developed for the manufacturing process and protocol for inspection of these products. With new technology, it is hard to know how long the lifespan of these products could be or if there are certain precautions that need to be taken to prolong the product’s durability. Liability insurance has not yet been developed for these specific procedures and with unknown risk, premiums will be high for the first ten years. 3D printing will require a new type of liability that the new laws will outline. With new advancements happening rather quickly, these laws should be developed within the next two years, along with a new line of insurance and even more technical advancements.


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Topics: risk, risk management, innovation