Giving Compass' Take:

· According to Fast Company, a hospital in Guatemala is expanding access to affordable prosthetics with the help of a 3D scanner and printer.

· How are 3D printers being used in the health industry? How has technology expanded access to healthcare? How can donors support these efforts?

· Check out this story about a high school student 3D printing a prosthetic hand for his schoolmate.

Making a very simple prosthetic arm can cost $1,000 for the materials alone. But 3D scanning and printing can shrink the cost to as little as $4. In Guatemala, where some families might earn $50 in a month, one hospital is now using digital tech and other techniques to make prosthetics accessible for patients who couldn’t have afforded them in the past.

When the hospital opened in 2006, new digital technology existed but wasn’t yet feasible to use. “A ‘portable’ scanner that took up your whole suitcase would be about $50,000,” says Brent Wright, a U.S.-based prosthetist and orthotist who travels to Guatemala twice a year to work at the hospital. “It just didn’t make financial sense.” Now, the costs are low enough that he can carry a handheld 3D scanner (made by a company called Artec), 3D printers, and materials for printing.

Creating a typical prosthetic is a labor-intensive process that involves making a cast, sanding it down, detailed measurements, and heating plastic in an oven to create a mold that has to be vacuum-sealed. This “test socket” is used in fittings before a final prosthetic is made from carbon fiber or another material. The digital process is faster. After making a cast of the patient’s affected limb and 3D scanning the cast, the technician has a digital file that can be sent to a 3D printer and produced. Because the file can be sent remotely, it also enables people to work in areas where 3D printers aren’t available. A nonprofit called LifeNabled that launched out of the hospital now wants to train more people to take scans locally, and then send the files to printers elsewhere.

Read the full article about expanding access to prosthetics by Adele Peters at Fast Company.