Healthcare technology is always changing, and nurses are often charged with keeping up with the latest trends. 3-D printing is one of the latest technologies to earn a place in modern medical technology, and it could even become as commonplace as Electronic Health Records when you complete your online nurse practitioner program and enter the workforce.
Following are several ways that 3-D printing could revolutionize nursing:
Most people are familiar with the use of 3-D printers for creating objects from various plastics and resins. However, this is only the beginning of what 3-D printers can do. Using a biological gelatin ink, these devices are now capable of producing three-dimensional replicas of biological organs.
An article from NPR describes the process. The 3-D printer produces a flexible gelatin version of the organ. This base structure is known as a scaffold and can include details as minute as pores. Real tissue from the organ is then applied to the scaffold, creating a viable organ. When transplanted, blood vessels can affix themselves to the organ, integrating it fully into the body.
Though the technology has not been used on humans, early research findings are optimistic. If artificial organ replication using 3-D printers becomes a common practice, nurses may find themselves with a new range of responsibilities as they assist patients undergoing a radical new type of transplant procedure. These organs have the potential to provide transplants to those who could not otherwise find a viable option. If the technology becomes mainstream, medical professionals who work regularly with organ transplant patients could see a dramatic change in their workloads.
Generating Easily Personalized Medical Implants
Producing functioning medical implants is a delicate process. Physicians must consider the distinctive needs of each patient. Every medical condition is unique, and patients require personalized solutions for the best chance of success with a medical implant.
3-D printing makes it possible to produce medical implants that are carefully calibrated to suit the individual patient’s needs. Using a CT scan, a doctor can obtain an exact image of what the patient needs. With a 3-D printer, the doctor can then build and produce an item that is an ideal fit for the patient. According to NPR, this technology has been used to make small windpipe splints for children with breathing problems and to reproduce a jawbone for an implant that fit the patient’s face.
Nurse practitioners who work with implant surgery may see more innovative procedures coming their way as new implant solutions become available. An article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) describes how nurses have a particularly high level of contact with patients who use implanted ports for draining fluids or administering medication. 3-D printing can provide more comfortable personalized solutions for these ports, which nurses can interact with closely on a regular basis.
Producing Highly Detailed Models
3-D printers can turn a scan of an organ into a scale model that medical and nursing students can hold in their hands. This technology gives medical professionals access to a valuable new learning tool that makes it easier to envision internal organs that can otherwise seem like abstract concepts. These models are not only useful for nursing students. Patients can expand their understanding of medical conditions with 3-D printed models, as well.
In an article from Advance Healthcare Network for Nurses, Justin Ryan, Ph.D., research scientist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, said of a 3-D model, “…we were able to use a model to communicate exactly what surgery would happen.” Working with a family who did not speak English, Ryan said this approach gave the family a greater sense of control over the process.
Nurses who are responsible for explaining medical procedures and critical aftercare to patients may find that 3-D printers give them access to tools that greatly improve the process. An exact model of body parts and organs can serve as an invaluable tool for enhancing communications between patients and the caregivers who serve them.
Minimizing Recovery Time
The purpose of most 3-D printing technology in the medical field is to create more personalized solutions that are a near-exact fit for the patient’s needs. This makes recovery smoother and faster. For the hard-working nurses responsible for guiding patients through the recovery process, this can mean shorter stays and faster turnover in hospitals. Improved recovery time will give nurses the ability to help a greater number of patients in a shorter period.
According to NCBI, America’s senior population is expected to increase by 31 million patients between 2000 and 2020, so nurse workload is a major concern for everyone in the industry. New technology that could ease that workload may have a dramatic impact on the busy nurses striving to provide outstanding levels of care to an increasing number of patients.
Easing Elder Care
As mentioned previously, most medical 3-D printing has to do with recreating anatomical parts and generating implants with a perfect fit. However, there are some out-of-the-box applications that can assist patients, as well, particularly as it pertains to the kitchen. Dysphagia, or a difficulty chewing and swallowing, is a common problem for the growing elderly population. Yet, pureed foods with the consistency of baby food are unappealing and unsatisfying.
Mother Nature Network describes how 3-D food printing is changing the face of mealtime for patients with dysphagia. Nourishing foods are cooked normally, then pureed into a smooth state. These purees are mixed with a solidifying agent and placed in a 3-D food printer. The printer then creates dishes that look like the original meals, yet retain their smooth quality and melt-in-the-mouth consistency.
With these meals on hand, nurses may face less of a battle with malnourishment in elderly patients and others who have trouble swallowing. The technology can make it easier to supply patients with core nutritional essentials through foods that are appealing and safe to consume.
As 3-D printing becomes more commonplace in the medical field, nurses will have increasing levels of contact with the technology. Nurses can boost their career potential by following the latest advancements in healthcare technology now. Upgrade your MSN through the Maryville University Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program. This online nurse practitioner program can help you earn your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) on your own time, allowing you to gain more experience with the latest technology.