They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

If this is the case, then what is the worth of a physical object, such as a 3D printed model?

Picture the following scene. 

Its night time. There are many stars in the sky, as far as the eye can see. Below the stars, a layer of clouds over the mountains. And in the distance, the glowing lights of a city. Now, scroll to the bottom of this post and tell me if what you imagined, and what is pictured, is similar?

Okay, so I didn’t use a thousand words to describe this scene… but you get the point. Intrinsically, we get more value when we look at an image than if we read a description alone. There’s a reason there are plenty of landscape artists and not a whole lot of landscape describers. 

A painting or photo of a landscape or portrait can be a thing of beauty with value in itself. The same might not always be true in writing. A simple description of an object will not have the same appeal to a lot of people as seeing the object for themselves.

The first examples of human writing of literature or poetry date back to 2500bc in ancient Mesopotamia. Contrast this to the first petroglyphs, which date back to 290,000-700,000 BC. Interestingly, three-dimensional artistic representations also date way back, with The Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel dating back to 38,000 BC. Really impressive stuff!

Image by MUEHLEIS YAM/LAD Esslingen

You didn’t come to the axial3D blog for an art history lesson, so, what’s my point? 

Well, we humans are visual creatures. But, we are also tactile. To feel something or hold it in our hands, often gives us a better appreciation of it. 

When it comes to the medical field, this is no different. When clinicians come together for a multidisciplinary team meeting, they aren’t reading descriptions of patients to one another. Before a surgeon operates, they don’t read a description of the patient and what needs to be done. They look at images. 

With medical 3D printing, we are introducing a shift in how these things can be viewed. 

1895 saw the world’s very first X-ray produced. At that point, it was groundbreaking. And now? Over 130 years have passed and X-rays have long been a core part of routine care – in fact, they have been since the 1930s. There are no practicing medics alive today for whom X-rays have not been a standard part of clinical care. 

Over the last 130 years, there have been other discoveries. Ultrasound, CT and MRI to name a few… These technologies have enabled medical imaging to progress and improved patient care significantly. The most recent of these is MRI, first been used on humans in 1977. In the intervening 4 decades, MRI has also become a core part of clinical care and has had a massive impact on oncology, neurology, and cardiology. 

3D printing is a technology almost as old as MRI. The first example of 3D printing dates back to 1980, however it is really only in the last decade that it has become more widely applicable and affordable. The application of 3D printing in the medical field is also quite recent.  In recent years the drop in the cost of 3D printing had really opened up opportunities to utilize this new technology in a new manner. 

Consider the two medical images below.

The CT image is something clinicians will be used to seeing. A simple black and white image from which diagnosis can be made. In this case, it’s a fractured Tibia.

CT image of a Fractured Tibia - 3D printing for healthcare

Now, you can see a clinician with the 3D printed model, which can provide 360 insights and feedback. You can hold it, turn it, move it, and really appreciate what you are looking at. 

surgeons planning with a 3D printed model
Image by RIMASYS

My desk has a bunch of these 3D printed models on it…

 A brain, a heart, a jaw, and a pelvis. I can pick them up and really get a tactile sense of them. 

Many medics that we work with have fed back on the impact of being able to get a better sense of the physical size, structure, and shape of what they are working with when using a 3D printed model. This has enabled them to better plan surgeries leading to improved patient outcomes and reduced time in surgery. 

We recently presented at SXSW, along with Dr. Tim Brown from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, about how 3D printing has really made an impact on his patients. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for this as Tim told the story of how his patients’ life had been saved in a highly complex case – and how the 3D printed model of the patient’s kidney had been hugely beneficial in planning the transplant surgery. 

You could have heard a pin drop in the room as Tim spoke. And, the entire audience burst into a round of spontaneous applause as Dr. Brown showed the video of the kidney being successfully fed blood, changing color from grey to pink.

We previously wrote about this – but seeing it presented on stage by the person who had actually completed the surgery was really emotive. 

It’s almost as if I was impacted more by my being there, hearing him talk, and watching the video of the surgery than just reading about it….

Oh, wait… That’s what I was explaining this whole time!

If you want to understand the value of a 3D printed model for yourself, there has never been a better time. Get a free 3D printed model of your next patient case here.

Photo by Wenhao Ryan on Unsplash

3D printed models give insights beyond traditional 2D and 3D medical imaging…

Don’t just take our word for it. Try axial3D today with a free patient-specific 3D printed model of your next patient case.


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Ryan Kyle
Ryan Kyle
Marketing Manager