According to an article on the site Devex, Humanity & Inclusion (HI), which changed its name from Handicap International in 2018, evaluated whether 3D printing of orthotic devices can help overcome barriers such as patients’ limited access to O&P clinics or a lack of trained personnel. For the study, conducted from December 2017 through April 2019, 100 patients in Togo, Mali, and Niger received 3D-printed and conventional orthoses to treat conditions such as knee instability and foot drop. Patients preferred the scanning process of 3D-printed devices over the casting process and preferred the appearance of the 3D-printed orthoses; however, reports indicated that conventional fabrication techniques yielded better results with regard to weight and durability.
The benefit of 3D printing is its reliance on scans, which can be taken remotely and sent by internet for fabrication, provided the connection is strong enough.
Tom Saey from Mobilab, a research center involved in the study, told Devex that one challenge they encountered was finding 3D printers that were robust, accurate, and not overly complex to facilitate repairs, which he said ruled out some of the most sophisticated industrial models in Europe. Materials were also a challenge, as high humidity could deform some of the 3D-printed devices within a few days.
“The idea is not to replace plaster and the old techniques,” Christophe Van Geel, a rehabilitation specialist with HI, told Devex. “3D printing has existed for 20 years but is only now beginning to become cost-effective in the field. It will be one of the panoply of tools available.”