When patients can see a 3D-printed model of their own arthritic knee joint or the tumour on their kidney or pelvis, it's much easier to understand the anatomy, the medical issues involved, and how a surgeon will operate.
"I think it's got to be an enormous advantage for patients," said Senator Art Eggleton, after he and five colleagues on the Senate's Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee toured the 3D printing lab at The Ottawa Hospital. "It will help surgeons better prepare for surgery. It's got to give patients a greater confidence level."
After learning about the 3D printing program at the hospital, the senators toured the lab, watching as the printer added layer upon layer to build a 3D model. They also handled various 3D-printed body parts. The senators are studying the role of robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence in the health-care system.
"This is truly impressive," said committee chair Senator Kelvin Ogilvie. "To have the capability to diagnose and use this technology to provide replacement body parts – this is the future and we're seeing it here."
3D-printed models help doctors explain diagnoses and surgical plans to patients, said Dr. Frank Rybicki, Chief of Medical Imaging at The Ottawa Hospital and Chair of Radiology at the University of Ottawa.
"We bring the patient's model to the patient," Dr. Rybicki explained. "It is truly ground-breaking to be able to deliver personalized medicine, to show the patient their own tumours. You would be shocked at how many people are excited to see their own tumour. If you have a tumour in your kidney, a huge part of your fear is not knowing what it looks like."
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Paul Beaulé showed the senators a 3D model of a tumour within the pelvis.
"Without this model it would be difficult to see where the tumour starts and ends. Also, the patient and family can have a much better appreciation of what's involved," he explained. "Each patient can be treated with specialized care."
Canada's first Medical 3D Printing Program, launched at The Ottawa Hospital in February, focuses on medical education, surgical planning, patient education, research, and patient-specific prostheses. Resident Dr. Leonid Chepelev explained how 3D printing helps doctors learn about and plan for surgeries and treatments, especially for cases that are rarely seen.
Dr. Rybicki said the 3D printing lab helps the hospital plan for the future.
"We're starting to treat the baby boomers," said Dr. Rybicki. "They're sore in their hips and having chest pains. They're in our Emergency Departments now. This is a way to elevate our game so that we can meet the needs of the baby boomers."
"As legislators, we want to know what we should be doing to facilitate this," said Senator Eggleton. "There's lots more to come."