3D printing for orthotics: Can it be done without a health professional?
Mecuris is a provider of medical services to help medical practitioners and orthotists digitalise their manufacturing process. Through 3D tech, Mercuris can create an orthosis process, from posture correction of a user scan, to modelling and configuration. It translates the traditional approach into digital workflows and tools. Today, we share an unreleased section from episode 37 of 15 Minutes With The Doctor, where Manuel shares his view on remote 3D scanning by patients and the creation of orthotics:
Tell me then, could a patient who has a chronic condition which needs regular braces or they are a child, and they require changes to their braces, could this type of person not need to come into the clinic at all? Could they remotely scan a part of their body and send it to you? Then somebody using your platform could work it up and get that done for them.
So I think some startups are trying this. For us at Mecuris, we would clearly say no. It’s not a technological question. It’s more the question; we want that the patient sees a medical professional. And in some countries that might not even be an orthotist — There are countries in Asia, for instance, where this profession doesn’t exist. And so, maybe it’s a physical therapist or directly the physician. But, we want the patient to see a medical professional. We think that is super important.
However, what is really changing and for instance, let me give you a practical example. In France, there are less than 10% of orthotic workshops compared to Germany. And that’s not just population-wise. It’s just that they have very few there, around 100 workshops all over France. In Germany, we have about 1500 to 1800 workshops.
And it is really that they cover a much larger area because they go out on visits. The orthotists, they drive around with their car. They visit the patient. They take a 3D scan. So that’s why in Germany, only roughly two thirds, according to a study from 2017, own a 3D scanner. But maybe there’s one or two each, in France.
Basically every office, they have a 3D scanner, and they have one in their car. They go to the patient; they take the measurements and the 3D scans there. They ask them what issues they have with their current splint or brace. And then, they send this data back to their workshop. While they are in the workshop, I don’t know, two or three times per week, they check in with the work, which is completed by their colleagues.
They can also, as I said, do it in their home office. They can rectify the scan and provide the orthotic brace, fully digital, from home. But the important part is, you always want a medical professional for the scanning. Not necessarily just for the scanning, but for talking to the patient and asking, “What is your problem with the current brace? How should we change your future brace?” And we want them present also for the fitting. So, in the end, we know the accuracy is much better.
Finally, we still need a medical professional to do the fit with the patient and maybe provide some extra padding at some point or another. For instance, if you take a 3D scan, it can be a perfect scan, but if it’s taken in the morning and you are fitting in the evening, there can be changes. I mean human leg circumference, for example, of your ankle, it changes over the day. So this can be sufficient to make it not a perfect fit in the evening. So that’s why it’s super important to have a medical professional for the scanning and the fitting part with human contact.
This is actually prescribed by regulation now. And it has just been confirmed by the EU commission — The same medical professional who does the modelling should also create the device. There are a lot of companies; they don’t want to do this. They outsource it. But based on the new medical device regulation from the EU, it will soon be illegal, and I’m quite happy with this. It prevents patients from being treated by persons who haven’t seen them. And I think this is very important for us.
I think it’s a very valid point that it’s easy to take measurements with a smartphone. But, it’s key to understand the customer or the patient. Healthcare is about understanding what the patient wants or needs, that human contact. That comes from a conversation, seeing a patient, or assessing them.