Recently, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) in conjunction with MakerNurse, John Sealy Hospital, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, unveiled the first MakerHealth facility. This space was created to inspire nurses to creatively solve problems they see every day caring for their patients, using a diverse range of crafting tools, from zip ties to 3D printers. The initiative recognizes that many nurses are already coming up with creative solutions to problems with patient care, and aims to facilitate the DIY attitude. For example, one of the nurses has used his expertise in the burn care unit to devise a special showering unit for burn patients.
One of the most exciting concepts is that by providing this space, the hospital and University are supporting internal innovation. Too often nurses come up with extremely innovative ideas that are not captured - the nurses can be incredibly humble, believing that what they have done is the same as what anybody would do in their circumstances. By recognizing staff-driven innovation, the MakerHealth facility validates what nurses have been doing for decades and centuries - finding better ways to care for their patients. And hopefully this initiative will serve to connect these ideas with medical device companies who may lack the intimate connections to source such applied ideas themselves.
The accessibility of 3D printing to solve basic healthcare needs is a theme that has been mirrored in the utilisation of 3D printing for simple testing devices that assess patient diseases. Just last week, researchers at Kansas State University announced that they are developing a 3D-printed device that will be able to detect anemia (a condition where there is not enough iron in the blood) when connected to a smartphone. This development is building upon an already-growing repertoire, including devices that can assess eye health, detect sickle cell disease and cervical cancer, and read ELISA assays. The best part is the accessibility of these devices - most require only simple components a 3D printer, and a smartphone. The ease of putting these devices together can reduce the costs of healthcare, supporting poorer socioeconomic classes, regions, and nations.
All of the solutions described above are both influenced by and influencing the 'maker' mentality. A mentality driven by DIY attitudes, it is stretching healthcare to consumers as well - mobile healthcare is already a booming industry, with 52% of smartphone users gathering health-related information on their phones. The connections between smartphone and 3D printing technology mentioned above may mean that in the future, consumers will perform many tests themselves, perhaps as easily as one might conduct a pregnancy test. And if 3D printers become a common household item in a similar way to current home printers, it may be possible to perform these tests without having to leave the comfort of your own home. Thus 3D printing, smartphones and the maker mentality may result in a healthier population at a lower cost, less visits to the doctor, and more time for doctors to focus on complex healthcare issues.