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3D models benefit surgeons, patients


A recent study examines the surgical time and financial savings when using 3D-printed models and surgical guides.

Joel Cohen, M.D.

Dr. Cohen

A new study published in Academic Radiology has identified a beneficial connection between the use of 3D-printed models and the amount of time spent in operating rooms.

Researchers also report a drop in healthcare costs when 3D-printed models were implemented. 

“We don't realize how things can be duplicated or generated and, in some cases, very quickly,” says Joel Cohen, M.D., Director of AboutSkin Dermatology and DermSurgery, Colorado. 

Study authors David H. Ballard, M.D., et al., estimate the use of such models and surgical guides could result in savings of more than $3,700 per-case spent in the operating room and a savings of $1,500 for the implementation of surgical guides. 

After analyzing more than 30 different studies related to 3D models used in orthopedic and maxillofacial surgery, the authors conclude that the use of anatomical models in the operating room could shorten procedures by an average of 62 minutes, at a cost of $62 per minute. 

In comparison, surgical guides utilizing 3D-printing could save an estimated 23 minutes spent in the operating room. 

3D Model Benefits

3D-printing technology can save on operating time, improve surgical accuracy and result in cost efficiencies. 

“I had some folks visiting my office when the Halo laser had come out and as I was unstrapping the Halo and getting ready to put in a different hand piece, I said ‘what we really need is a holster for this,’” says Dr. Cohen. “They looked at me and said that’s probably doable. And then literally within a week, I got this part. And [they said], ‘We figured this out, and 3D printed it for you.’”

Not only did this 3D-printed part save time by not needing to fully unstrap the different Halo hand pieces, but it also eliminated the risk of the laser falling or getting damaged, says Dr. Cohen. 

Besides financial savings that can be had with 3D-printing, technology can also be used to benefit clinicians and patients. The ability to build anatomical models has allowed surgeons to carefully plan complex procedures and consult with patients and families using a detailed visual. 

Notably, however, most third-party insurers do not cover 3D-printed anatomical models and surgical guides, making its use expensive. 

RELATED: The future of wound healing 

While Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes cover advanced visualization - including 3D visualization - there is no apparent path for reimbursement if a DICOM image dataset is converted to a 3D-printed model. 

Still, study authors believe that despite the lack of reimbursement, 3D-printed anatomical models are vital to performing typically poorly understood procedures, while also offering financial savings in the long term as a result. 

Thus, the authors encourage the development of a financial model that can be used to fund these 3D models.


David H. Ballard receives salary support from National Institute of Health. Jeffery A. Weisman is a co-inventor of patent application number US14822275, which is not discussed. There are no other reported financial disclosers.


Ballard DH, Mills P, Duszak R, Weisman JA, Rybicki FJ, Woodard PK. Medical 3D Printing Cost-Savings in Orthopedic and Maxillofacial Surgery: Cost Analysis of Operating Room Time Saved with 3D Printed Anatomic Models and Surgical Guides. Acad Radiol. 2019 [epub ahead of print].

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