John O’Hearn, a Harford surgeon, has become one of the first surgeons in American to utilize an iTotal knee replacement system, a system that allows surgeons to use 3D printing to create a highly customized knee implant for each patient. Although 3D printing is not a completely new technology, this is one of the first times it is being introduced in common surgeries.
After reading the article, I can see the many advantages 3D printing offers to the medical world. The purpose of 3D printed knees, or other joints, is to customize them to the patient’s specific anatomy. This customization yields many benefits that could not be achieved through traditional operations. One advantage is that the custom-made joints are predicted to have higher levels of function and comfort. This is because the body is more likely to accept a custom-fit joint as a real joint than one that is not customized. The bone and muscle systems will be able to work with the replacement well, thus leading to more mobility and comfort. Another advantage that the article reports is that patients have shorter recovery times post-operation than they would with traditional knee replacements. O’Hearn says hospital stays could go down to just a few hours. Shorter hospital stays reduce the likelihood that a patient will contract an illness post-operation, since they will be spending less time around other patients. Quicker recovery time is also an advantage for hospitals; they would have more room to treat more patients, thus improving our nation’s health care system. Finally, custom fit joints take less time to implant than traditional ones, making the surgery’s impact on the patient’s body less severe and reducing the likelihood of infection.
While the article discusses many advantages to 3D printed joints, I do see flaws in the iTotal system that could be devastating if not addressed. The article mentions a recall of this system that occurred in 2012 due to moisture in some of the pieces. While this problem was addressed, the fact that the recall occurred makes me believe that there may be more recalls like this one in the future. Recalling joints may lead to necessary repair surgeries that could take a toll on the patient’s health even further. Another possible problem with this system involves the materials the joints are printed in. The joint is printed with a plastic composite, a material not commonly used in joint replacements. Since we have not used this material widely, how will we know that the patient will not have an adverse reaction to it? Finally, although the article claims that this 3D printed knee is about the same price as a typical knee replacement, one must consider the price of even obtaining a 3D printer in the first place. A large 3D printer can be hard to find and expensive to purchase, thus raising the cost of the operation for the patient.