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Open standards in healthcare innovation

26 July 2018

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The use of imaging standards has been transformational in the medical world. Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine, or DICOM as it is more commonly known, is the most widely known and currently most commonly used by companies in medical 3D printing.

DICOM allows medical professionals to exchange imaging data across the world, describing everything about the data from storage to transmission and display. It also provides a way for manufacturers of medical imaging equipment and medical software to interoperate with each other. This is key to building (and integrating) different workflows which meet specific patient needs. With the wide spread adoption of 3D printing in medicine there is a need to define how these new variations of medical images, specifically 3D printable files, can be incorporated into existing medical imaging standards. Extending rather than replacing existing standards is key to ensuring that 3D printing information can be captured and stored properly. This ensures that the technology can be incorporated into existing clinical workflows.

axial3D actively participates in Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) Working Group 17 on 3D printing. The group develop Open Standards, meaning they are made available freely and are developed and maintained via a collaborative and consensus driven process. Since the establishment of WG17, the core mandate of the group is to “extend and promote the use of DICOM for the creation, storage and management of 3D printing models in a healthcare setting, where the model is either (a) derived from medical images, or (b) expected to be compared / composited with medical images. The new standard for encapsulating STL was accepted into the DICOM standard as supplement 205.

This has a far-reaching impact within the medical field, from enabling the tracking of 3D objects the hospital imaging archiving system (PACS/VNA). This will allow medical 3D printing vendors to better integrate 3D printing into existing care pathways within the hospital, and provide tracking of the utilisation within by the healthcare provider. Like any developing area, WG17 is continues to refine the requirements based on the needs of the community. If you are interested in contributing to the discussion on 3D printing you can complete the DICOM WG17 questionnaire.

Looking ahead, while the STL file is widely accepted for the process of 3D printing there are other formats that have a variety of benefits. For example, the OBJ format can be easily incorporated into web platforms as well as virtual and augmented reality formats. Other formats such as Web3D’s X3D are part of the web open standards and are seeing increasing adoption by mixed reality platforms.

axial3D is committed to keeping abreast of all advances in this field, and has a number of team members participating in European events on the topic. Web3D held the 23rd International ACM Conference on 3D Web Technology in Poland this June and axial3D participated in the hackathon ahead of the main conference. Visualisation Engineer Luke Donnelly took part in the challenge to develop a new way of interacting with VR with only one hand. The challenges explored at the event reflect the need for new ways of thinking about user interfaces and how individuals interact with computers. Mixed reality platforms require a move away from keyboards and mice towards gestures, voice and other new interfaces. Similar to 3D printing there needs to be standardisation in the data exchange formats for these new systems too.

The need for new ways of thinking about UI was also in evidence at the 32nd Human Computer Interaction Conference earlier this month. axial3D presented to the group of international experts at this conference, highlighting our journey of providing software and service solutions to facilitate easy access to 3D printing for surgeons. We have created an innovative workflow and visualisation platform to enable surgeons to annotate and prescribe their precise requirements quickly, facilitating a fast and efficient medical manufacturing pathway.

Open standards such as DICOM and X3D are extremely important for creating an innovative ecosystem. They allow vendors to produce software and services that users can rely on to be interoperable. Just as open source has been instrumental in delivering innovation in the internet age, open standards are going to be vital for producing innovation in the next age – the data age. axial3D is committed to using open standards and promoting interoperability. We are developing cutting edge tools to enable this; all aimed at making 3D printing more routine in the hospital, resulting in better care for patients.

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open standards are the key to innovation in the 21st Century