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3D printing technology improving patient outcomes

A three dimensional (3D) printer based at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) is improving the way care is delivered within the plastics and craniofacial services.

The advanced technology allows for better patient outcomes by increasing accuracy and reducing operating times by approximately one hour on average.

The RAH is the first public hospital in South Australia to house a 3D printer, which is now shared by The Australian Craniofacial Unit and RAH Plastics Department predominantly for treatment planning and complex trauma cases.

The 3D printer uses CT scans to develop approximately 40 life size anatomy models each year, including skulls, jaws, hands and fingers. 

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Life size skull and jaws produced by the 3D printer at the Royal Adelaide Hospital

Walter Flapper, Consultant Craniofacial Surgeon, says the 3D printing technology provides many advantages and has been popular within the craniofacial field.

“Holding something in your hand is always better than looking at it on a computer screen,” Walter said.

“In trauma, we use it for the really complex cases, very nasty facial fractures and a lot of the congenital conditions. It is very useful to look at the abnormal anatomy and plan what we are going to do.

“In terms of facial fractures, it allows us to see exactly where the fractures are so we can plan the operation ahead of time. All of this preparation reduces time when we are on the operating table.

“It is also very useful for teaching the juniors, registrars and fellows. We can demonstrate what we are dealing with and the various conditions, either congenital or trauma.”

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Walter Flapper, Consultant Craniofacial Surgeon

Dr Yugesh Caplash, Head of Unit, Plastics at the RAH, says the 3D printer allows surgeons to be more prepared ahead of time, which ultimately leads to better patient outcomes.

“The 3D printing technology has resulted in reduced theatre time and less estimation of work,” Dr Caplash said.

“We are able to bend the plates straight onto the model, which are then sterilised in the Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD) before we transfer them to the patient.

“The 3D printing showed so much promise, particularly in relation to patients’ with head and neck cancers, so we kept moving further and further, however there is still room for progress.”

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​Dr Yugesh Caplash, Head of Unit, Plastics at the RAH

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