3D printed models can cut downstream costs for health systems

Three-dimensional (3D) printed anatomic models, often derived from medical images, can be used during patients' operative care to save health systems substantial downstream costs, according to a new analysis published in Academic Radiology.

Interest in 3D printing has been on the rise. This past July, four category III current procedural terminology (CPT) codes went into effect for 3D printed anatomic models and guides. The move was spearheaded by the ACR and RSNA.

While interest is growing, David H. Ballard, MD, of the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology in St. Louis and colleagues wrote in the study that hospitals have long adopted 3D printed models due to their potential “pay for itself” impact.

“These ‘payments’ include superior confidence of the surgeon or proceduralist, the ability to perform complex procedures that were poorly understood anatomically with 3D visualization (the collective term for viewing a 3D volume in any format on a 2D screen), and financial savings secondary to shorter, more efficient procedures,” the authors added.

The researchers reviewed literature that included operating room cost-per minute and quantified time saved using 3D printed constructs in orthopedic and maxillofacial surgery. A mean of $64 per operating room minute was used as reference standard. Ballard et al. took cost-per-minute of operating room time numbers and mean time saved using 3D models from the studies to create various financial scenarios.

Overall, seven studies that used 3D printed models in surgical care showed a mean of 62 minutes ($3720/case saved from reduced time) of time saved, and 25 studies of 3D printed surgical guides revealed a mean of 23 minutes ($1488/case saved from reduced time) saved.

“Our literature-based financial analyses demonstrate that cost-savings of 3D printed anatomic models and surgical guides can be substantial and financially feasible at relatively low volumes,” the authors wrote. “Specifically, it shows that a volume of approximately 63 models or guides a year, or 1.2 3D printed constructs per week, can potentially cover operational costs needed to maintain a 3D printing lab.”

Many of the anatomic models and guides are derived from CT, MRI and volumetric ultrasound images, the group noted. These models are used in preoperative planning, intraoperative guidance, medical trainee education, and patient information and consent to improve workflow efficiency.

“Studies to validate these analyses using single- and multiple institutional data are needed given the heterogeneity of sources used for analysis,” Ballard et al. concluded. “Nevertheless, the present study's literature-based financial analyses demonstrate surrogates of value and financial feasibility of 3D printing in preoperative planning and saving intraoperative time.”