Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Ivan Wong performs most of his surgeries arthroscopically. While this technique is minimally invasive, the surgeon can only see tiny pieces and it requires a lot of planning.

Now, 3D printing is helping with the process on especially difficult cases.

“So now being able to print something, we’re really able to see what we’re going to do in surgery when we do arthroscopic surgery or keyhole incisions,” says Dr. Wong.

Dr. Wong’s lab at the QEII Health Sciences Centre is using software called Ossa – the brainchild of local company Conceptualiz – to turn CT scans into tangible 3D models.

“The software has really revolutionized 3D printing because it has enabled doctors and non-engineers to be able to do it by themselves all in house,” says orthopaedic surgeon and Conceptualiz co-founder Dr. Richard Hurley.

Dr. Hurley uses the software in his practice at Dartmouth General Hospital. He says in the past, 3D printing required outsourcing and a lot of money.

“We now can use this very easy to use low cost software and combine that with these desktop printers right in the office here or in the operating room,” Dr. Hurley tells CTV News.

Dr. Wong says 3D printing has allowed the development of new techniques and increased the ability to do surgery on things he never thought possible.

“For example like shoulder surgery. When someone has a dislocating shoulder, the previous way of fixing somebody with bone loss is through a relatively large incision through the front of the shoulder of which you have to cut through all the muscles and potentially bone to get to the area you want to try to fix,” says Dr. Wong. “So you actually do some damage before you get to the area of repair.”

Now, with the help of these 3D models, Dr. Wong is able to do this as a keyhole surgery without all that damage.

“It’s giving surgeons more information about spatial anatomy and scale of the patients and it’s making them better surgeons,” Dr. Hurley says.

Dr. Hurley believes better surgeons translate directly to better patient outcomes.

“It’s reducing surgeon error rates in the operating room, it’s improving safety for patients and that all leads to decreased complication rates.”

He hopes to see this technology applied to even more specialties as a new high-tech model of care.