“Winston-Salem State University’s occupational therapy program is testing out 3D printing as a cost-efficient, flexible way to provide adaptive tools and devices for patients.
Through grant funding, the Occupational Therapy Department has been able to secure a 3D printer and has already begun creating tools that cost up to 25 cents each to make, versus the $30 to purchase each one, said Elizabeth Fain, an assistant professor at the university.
“It won’t take long for this device to literally pay for itself,” she said.
They’ve already have created various tools for patients who need help holding eating utensils and keys or opening lids and jars. They’ve even made tools to help patients with buttons and zippers. They’re making different-sized pill boxes and containers for patients, as well.
Fain said the plan is to test out what they can create this summer, with the help of Diego Herrera, one of her students.
“And then come following spring, whatever students are enrolled in that community care clinic class will be learning how to print these 3D devices and actually get to give it to their patients there,” Fain said.
Those patients who will benefit from this work are at the Community Care Center of Forsyth County, a free clinic for low-income and uninsured residents in the community.
One of the pieces they’re trying to work out is making these products personalized to the patient’s needs.
“We’ve been trying to figure out the sizes to be more applicable for each person,” Herrera said. “Your hand size might be different than mine, so trying to figure out how we’re going to measure them and make sure whatever works for the person.”
“So that’s what we’ve been doing with the programs and trying to find files and things that can be helpful and time-efficient too that doesn’t take that long but can be also functional,” he said.
As far as quality is concerned, Fain said what they’ve printed so far would match up to any commercial product with similar function. If there was a product they knew would have to function under more pressure or strain, they would print it with a stronger plastic.
While this, if successful, would benefit patients at the clinic, Fain sees advantages for WSSU’s OT department and its students.
“Our OT students get to learn a new, innovative technology, they get to feel good because they’ve given these devices to someone in need who couldn’t get it otherwise and then our patients become more independent because they’ve got the devices,” Fain said. “So it’s really exciting, and to be a part of something on cutting edge.”
Long term, Fain said she hopes they can add prosthetics to the list of 3D printed items they can offer to those in need in the community.
The clinic and WSSU’s OT program have benefited from grant money from IRUSA in the past, Fain said.
“They have really been instrumental in us being able to provide the needed care for these uninsured clients,” she said ”
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