3-D technology intrigues prosthetists

‘In today’s world of technology, you’ve got to be looking at just about everything,’ says one provider
Friday, April 10, 2015

YARMOUTH, Maine – It sounds like something out of a sci-fi film: artificial limbs rolling off a 3-D printer.

“There are a lot of people out there getting all excited about 3-D printing,” said Dennis Clark, president of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Group of America (OPGA), a division of The VGM Group. “To me, this is just a material or process change. It’s the next thing.”

Google “3-D printing + prosthetics” and nearly 31,000 results appear. Currently, the primary application of the technology to prosthetics seems to be hands for children, but other results feature research on sockets and lower limbs.

The American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association recently released a statement on the media’s reporting on 3-D printing in prosthetics. While the association says it is “intrigued” by the emerging technology, it is concerned that, in many cases, care did not comply with Food and Drug Administration guidelines, and/or applicable licensure and accreditation requirements. 

It’s a controversial subject, says prosthetist James Newberry.

“A lot of practitioners are thinking it might take over their techniques, or affect quality outcomes,” said Newberry, CEO and director of orthotic patient management at Mahnke’s Orthotics-Prosthetics in Oakland Park, Fla. “As things evolve, the technology, if used correctly, does have some potential.”

All the attention paid to 3-D printing has lead prosthetist James Rogers to create a subcommittee at his practice to investigate the technology’s implications.

“From what I can tell, there could be some possibilities for some cost savings, although there’s a significant upfront investment in training, equipment etc.,” said Rogers, owner of PPS Orthotic and Prosthetic Services in Chattanooga, Tenn. “In today’s world of technology, you’ve got to be looking at just about everything.”

For Clark, a second-generation prosthetist, how prosthetics are made is ultimately “immaterial.”

“What we do is manage O&P care,” he said. “Managing the fabrication process is part of that, but it’s a very minor part.”