3D-printed models can drop operating room times, bolster bottom line

Deploying 3D-printed, anatomical patient models and surgical guides has the potential to dramatically drop both time spent in the operating room and healthcare costs. 

That’s according to a new study published last week in Academic Radiology. Based on a review of several past analyses, researchers estimate that such anatomical models could save more than $3,700 per case by reducing time spent in the OR, and surgical guides could save nearly $1,500. 

“Medical 3D printing appears to reduce operating room costs secondary to shortening procedure times,” wrote David H. Ballard, MD,  Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues. “While resource-intensive, 3D-printed constructs used in patients’ operative care provide considerable downstream value to health systems.”

The authors reached their conclusions by analyzing more than 30 different studies related to 3D models used in orthopedic and maxillofacial surgery. Based on that review, they estimate that anatomical models could shorten surgery time by about 62 minutes on average, at a cost per minute of $62. Surgical guides printed using 3D, meanwhile, could save an estimated 23 minutes spent in the operating room. 

Surgeons have often used 3D-printed constructs to help guide their work; however, third-party insurers often do not cover such assistance, the authors noted. Typical uses for these models have included preoperative planning, guidance during surgery, educating medical trainees, and informing patients about their care.  

The authors argued that, despite the historical lack of reimbursement for these services, 3D-printed, anatomical models pay for themselves, instilling surgeons and proceduralists with “superior confidence” in their ability to perform complicated procedures that have typically been poorly understood, and financial savings due to the shorter procedure times.

Given those savings, the researchers said developing a financial model to fund use these surgery aids should be “of interest to health care systems and radiology departments that may be considering the implementation of a 3D-printing lab or service.”

The team added that interest in this topic has been growing among industry trade groups. Last fall, the American Medical Association Current Procedural Terminology Editorial Panel approved the creation of four new CPT codes to track and detail use of models and guides across the U.S. Both the American College of Radiology and RSNA led a collaborative effort to propose those new codes, the authors noted. 

Those two entities are also launching a medical 3D-printing registry this fall to collect data at the point of care and further document use and implementation of these models.