Specialized treatment is increasingly available to everyone now that global communication, model-based medicine and additive manufacturing are paving the way.
James B. Thompson, Siemens Digital Industries Software
Digitalization and software-based technologies are fundamentally changing the reach and scope of medical care. Three key technologies are shaping this future — secure communication technologies, model-based anatomy and additive manufacturing. All of these interact and support each other at some level, but each is important in its own right.
A new relationship with medicine
Most of us interact with individual physicians within driving range and often by recommendation, based on a list of prerequisites. However, technological innovations can free us from geographic restrictions and episodic visits. Digitalized services in medtech are available on a global network, providing far-reaching benefits.
Cloud-based connectivity enables medical experts to interact remotely with any patient anywhere. Digital platforms also support the exchange of data securely while adhering to regulatory compliance. These platforms are continuing to develop and advance with medtech companies and applications, providing a global reach of expertise and value.
Secure cloud platforms provide diagnostic testing and digital data communication for medical scans and lab pathology. Connected care via medtech digital services also affords the patient access to expert consultation that uses biomedical modeling, simulation tools and artificial intelligence analytics of diagnostic data. The result? Personalized health recommendations based on the very best diagnostic capabilities leading to optimal diagnosis and treatment plans, along with individualized precision-medicine providing tailored therapies and procedures.
The response to the global pandemic has greatly accelerated the use of connected care via digital health platforms providing ongoing patient care, even during strict quarantines. The benefits and convenience have quickly become apparent and what would have taken years was realized in just a matter of months.
Connected care and surgical aids
Model-based development is driving the charge of this connected wave in myriad ways. A digital twin of the patient anatomy, which uses medical scans to construct a virtual 3D model, can enable more efficient surgery and treatment planning. Providers can also use a digital twin to educate the patient about surgical procedures and diagnostic results. Specialists can craft surgical techniques remotely for cases with unique challenges. Anatomical models can be shared and even 3D printed, for local or international specialists to more fully assess individual disease status and help plan interventions and therapies.
So, instead of a patient spending money, time and effort in traveling to a world-class care facility across the country or in another part of the world, the patient’s digital twin travels virtually via the cloud where it can be visualized, analyzed and 3D printed remotely, providing guidance to local physicians. With more investment in the technology, more surgeries could be conducted virtually with surgical robots mirroring the actions of the specialist.
Additive manufacturing of medical implants
Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing, brings unique benefits in crafting medical devices using organic shapes and methods adapted to specific patient needs. These require significantly more complicated structures than typical engineering parts or tools. Additive manufacturing of implants, instruments or prosthetics enables device adaptation to a patient’s anatomy for therapies/treatments with more positive outcomes.
For example, when receiving a knee replacement, it’s not just about finding an excellent anatomical fit, but matching the implant to the purpose. Thus, the biomechanics of the anatomy is simulated to validate adequate performance for its intended use. The simulation even provides feedback for modification of implant shape or positioning to achieve the optimal targeted performance of strength, resiliency, weight, etc.
The impact of additive manufacturing on connected and digitalized care can’t be overstated, whether for end-to-end personalized and precision medicine processes or for specific solutions like pre-operative 3D printing of anatomy. Here, the use of advanced additive design tools tailored to additive manufacturing is essential to enable production volume at scale, lattice structures and shape-optimization algorithms, resulting in lightweight, robust and strong components.
Individualized accuracy, anywhere
Precision and premium quality with personalized service result in patient-specific methods for surgeries, higher productivity, greater efficiency and minimized risk. Moreover, 3D modeling combined with patient-specific engineering of the design and manufacturing of surgical instrumentation can be performed in specialized global institutions.
When medical images and pathology data are transferred to a centralized office, experts perform engineering-to-order work and send outputs electronically for review and approval by the patient’s local surgeon before 3D printing and shipping. Shipping supplies to disaster areas can be challenging, but a local and validated printing system could be used by simply and securely sending the necessary files over the internet.
Looking to tomorrow
The technological development of the past few years along with the circumstances of the past months have accelerated the shift away from highly localized medicine. Whether that is virtual check-ups with your physician today or specialized procedures tomorrow, global connections are here to stay in the medical industry, and medtech’s involvement will continue to grow.
Digitalization makes communication easier while retaining privacy, and intelligent models that enable the digital twin enrich diagnosis and treatment planning. Both advancements make the whole process more efficient when combined with additive manufacturing for personalized and precision medical devices.
James B. Thompson is senior director of industry strategy, Medical Device & Pharmaceutical, for Siemens Digital Industries Software. Before joining Siemens, he worked for IBM in software development & consulting, and for GE as a mechanical engineer.
The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of Medical Design and Outsourcing or its employees.