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GE and VA partner to build 3D printing network

by John W. Mitchell , Senior Correspondent
Surgeons of VA Puget Sound Health Care System used to spend enormous amounts of time poring over medical images before surgery, sometimes taking a second – or even a third – look.

This all changed with the introduction of 3D printed models, which reduced surgery imaging preparation to as little as a minute or less.

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"You have to think about what kind of person becomes a surgeon. They're very tactile," Beth Ripley, a radiologist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, told HCB News. "If you can put a model in their hands, they get it in 30 seconds and are on their way."

To build up its 3D printing network, the VA has teamed up with GE Healthcare, announcing the partnership last week at the 2018 RSNA conference in Chicago. It asserts that GE's expertise in radiology and software for imaging platforms make it the right fit in helping the healthcare system apply 3D modeling to better serve its nine million veterans.

With its advanced visualization GE Healthcare tool, VA radiologists can quickly produce and critique models from patient studies as part of their routine clinical task. “Through this partnership, we hope to reduce the time it takes to translate imaging data sets into 3D models, thereby increasing the number of veterans who are positively impacted by this technology," said Ripley.

Ripley and her colleagues have published several papers on 3D modeling and printing. The most recent, published in the June issue of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, highlights the current challenges associated with translating medical images into 3D printable files. Previous research has found 3D modeling and printing to be well-suited for surgical planning in a wide range of cases,however, ranging from treatment of kidney tumors and valve surgery to reconstructive surgery to liver tumor procedures.

The VA is defining new use cases for 3D printing almost weekly, according to Ripley, who says the joy she feels from her work is not just driven by the advancements she’s been able to pioneer but also where she’s pioneered them.

"The VA has a strong culture of innovation and a mission to honor veterans by providing exceptional health care that improves their health and well-being," said Ripley. "The fact that the Veterans Health Administration is embracing 3D printing and supporting frontline staff who are using the technology to provide unique solutions to their patients is a testament to this."

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