An Orange hospital worker tinkering with his 3D printer at home has led to a breakthrough in radiation treatment for cancer.
Radiation therapist Andrew Skimmings said he normally made models, tools and small items on his printer but three years ago decided to see what could be done to help patients at the hospital.
Fast forward three years and the 3D Print in Cancer Care project has now helped about 70 patients, achieved major cost cuts and efficiency gains and has just been awarded the 2019 Quality and Innovation Award for the Western NSW Local Health District.
The experience for the patient is so much nicer and so much more pleasant.Philip Kent, radiation therapist, Orange Health Service
Mr Skimmings has worked with fellow radiation therapist Philip Kent on the project along with the 21-member radiation team in Orange.
They have been able to replace the use of plaster to make a bolus, a mask that diffuses radiation when treating patients, with exact models made of the same lightweight material used in plastic forks.
"I am [proud], I did a lot of the research and development at home on my own 3D printer. It's kind of nice to feel you're not doing work at work," Mr Skimmings said.
"The cost is pretty significantly saved. For a bolus that was rigid before it would cost us about $80-$100, now it costs us $7-$14 and we've cut 10 hours out of the process."
VIDEO: The 3D breakthrough explained
And the 3D printer has other benefits including saving $60,000 on buying a key component by printing it themselves.
He said they had to "start from scratch" back in 2016.
Once the material, plastic lactic acid or PLA, was proven to work they had to ask the hospital volunteer auxiliary for money to buy the $4800 3D printer as no funding was available.
Mr Kent said it had made life much better for cancer patients needing radiation treatment.
"The experience for the patient is so much nicer and so much more pleasant," he said.
"It was quite intensive and quite full on for the patient. The process was to make a plaster impression of the patients face," he said.
He said they had streamlined a 45-minute process plus clean-up time and a callback to make sure the mask fitted for the patient, involving 10 manhours of work for staff, into one where the patient only needed a scan.
"Now the patient just has a CT scan, they just lie on the bed. There is no other process involved," he said.
Staff time is done to 20 minutes, while the 3D printing which takes about four hours is done overnight.
"We just hit print and off we go and then we're left with this perfect device that fits first time every time," he said.
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