3D printing and other technological innovations are transforming the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare — and changing veterans’ lives forever.
A left elbow injury sustained from an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2007 caused Sam Taito extensive nerve damage that forces his hand to remain in a clenched position. Off-the-shelf hand braces were no match for his injury, often snapping under the strain of his fingers. However, a custom 3D-printed hand brace designed by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hand therapist, Mary Matthews Brownell, is strong enough to withstand Taito’s strength and “fits like a glove.” Now, Taito can reach out and hold his baby girl’s hand, conduct everyday tasks like brushing his teeth without pain, and work in his garden.
VA has spurred 3D printing’s growth and expects that more than 25 hospitals will be using it by the end of the year. This work is part of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Innovation Ecosystem. A relatively new part of VA, it works with a network of government, academic, and private sector partners to identify the most promising innovations, fund them, and spread them to benefit veterans.
This technology allows VHA healthcare providers to design patient-matched solutions, such as dental crowns, hand braces, wheelchair accessories and more. 3D printing can even be used to create an exact replica of a patient’s anatomy — for example, a patient’s heart — from medical imaging studies, such as computed tomography (CT) scans.
VA runs the country’s largest integrated health care system serving the nation’s over 20 million veterans and there are new innovations happening every day. 3D printing is just one example of how innovative VA staff are utilizing new technologies. Virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics are other technologies being harnessed to deliver cutting-edge healthcare to former service members.