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Healthcare Technology Vital in Fight Against COVID

An example of the face shields created at the Charleston VA using a 3D printer.
An example of the face shields created at the Charleston VA using a 3D printer.

There are many healthcare heroes on the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and caregivers. But there are many others behind the scenes providing much-needed expertise and ingenuity.

This week is Healthcare Technology Management Week and we salute all the healthcare technology professionals at the Charleston VA for their hard work and dedication to our veterans!

HTM professionals are responsible for servicing, maintaining, and managing healthcare technologies in the medical center and community-based outpatient clinics. Skilled technicians and engineers help acquire, install, maintain, and train healthcare personnel on cutting-edge medical technology. They also support medical staff in the use of the technology.

They played a vital role when the COVID-19 pandemic began by using 3D printers to make face shields and masks when medical supplies were in high demand.

“The first thing we started printing was face shields because there was a shortage across the nation," biomedical engineer Nikki Beitenman said. “When we initially tried to order them from a supplier, we were quoted a price of $4 per face shield. We can make them in-house for about 85 cents.”

Another great benefit to using the 3D printer to make face shields was the ability to sanitize and re-use them – which was not an option with those purchased from a supplier.

The Charleston VA is now a 3D printing hub making custom face shields for staff; attachable screens for optometry equipment allowing close-proximity exams; models of a head to teach clinical staff how to appropriately swab for COVID testing; and swabs to collect specimens to test for coronavirus. The 3D printing hub is saving taxpayer dollars by producing equipment at a lower cost – in some cases 75 percent less – than it could be purchased. It also supports production of needed items at other VA facilities across the region.

According to Beitenman, there are several ways to tackle the process.

“Normally, we meet with clinical staff, design from scratch in a CAD software, place that file into a slicing software where we pick all the details of the print (temperature, layer height, perimeters etc.) and then from that software we upload the file to the printer and it builds the file for us,” said Beitenman. “The cost savings are significant, and the patients love being able to see it.”

The Charleston VA is currently printing:

  • Face Shields
  • Slit Lamp and Phoropter Barriers
  • Ear Protectors
  • Nurse Education Models for COVID Testing
  • Nasal Swabs
  • Patient Specific Assistive Devices
  • Wheelchair Accessories including joysticks, cup holders and cell phone holders
  • Face Masks
  • Equipment part replacement
  • Audiology models
  • Ventilator Splitters

Additionally, there is the capability of printing:

  • Check sockets
  • Shoe Inserts
  • Anatomy models for surgical planning based on imaging as well as phantoms for quality assurance
  • Dentures, orthodontic modeling, crowns and bridges, occlusal guards and splints
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