Ever since affordable 3D printing became a thing, a plethora of startups began envisioning it as a tool for producing truly customized orthopedic supports. Some efforts actually reach their goal but only in tailor made single solutions, not as a mass customization device. Now a company called ActiveArmor may have finally cracked that riddle, creating a 3D printed cast/orthotic support device for injuries and pain that is meeting with the favor of the medical community.
ActivArmor is the first watersafe, custom fit/designed/fabricated orthosis available in the US Market and has The company reports (perhaps exaggerating a little) that “being an ActivArmor providing clinic increases patient referrals and throughput as patients seek the product out directly and physicians are making referrals to certified clinics. Clinics are viewed as innovative, and are given the opportunity to provide their patients with the latest in high tech healing options.”
Any doctor is now able to provide their patients with the latest high-tech immobilization option with no additional time or expense by simply writing a prescription for an ActivArmor custom splint. Because the devices are custom designed and fabricated, physicians have an infinite number of unique design options, including length, cut lines, exposure of bony protrusions or incisions, adaptability for use with complimentary healing technologies such as ultrasound and bone stimulators, TENS units, biomonitors, EMS, etc.
Using ActivArmor at any phase of the healing process can save clinic time because it is reusable, so eliminates the need for cutting off casts and recasting for each follow-up exam, incision check, or x-ray. There is no need for additional office visits and replacement casts due to claustrophobia, skin irritation, or wet casts. This can reduce office time and increase patient throughput and efficiencies as well as save money in casting and splinting supplies and inventory. Even if a traditional cast is required during the initial phase of an acute injury, ActivArmor can be used in later healing phases to give the patient the freedom to ease back into normal activities after injury.
How much does it cost?
Pricing is certainly a big part of the riddle. ActivArmor pricing is based on Medicare published reimbursement rates for custom splints. How much patients will pay depends on the state they are in, their insurance company’s negotiated rates with that clinic, and their individual co-pay or deductible.
For clinics, the wholesale price provides margins below Medicare published rates, and there are multiple billing options. In addition, the billing opportunities per hour are multiplied by doing a 30-second scan in the clinic instead of fitting a patient in the clinic with a cast or splint, the labor, inventory, and clean-up required. There is no need for labor and equipment in order to utilize, and bill for, advanced healing technologies like bone stimulators.
Ppatients, you only need to pay once for ActivArmor, as it transitions into a removable splint throughout the healing phases – eliminating the need for multiple castings and splints.
What about turnaround?
Lead times are the other big issue in getting doctors, clinics and hospitals to adopt 3D printed medical devices. Splints have to be manufactured in an off-site, FDA registered medical device manufacturing center… so what does a patient with a broken arm do during the turnaround time to the clinic?
When someone breaks their arm, they usually go to the Emergency room, where they are placed in a temporary splint and then sent to an orthopedic surgeon, who will diagnose them and determine what sort of treatment is required.
The treatment could be to immobilize the patient immediately in a cast (e.g. in the case of a non-displaced, stable fracture) or in a splint (e.g. for a soft tissue injury or sprain), closed reduction (setting the bone without surgery), and open reduction (surgical bone realignment).
In many cases, with an acute injury, a patient will be swollen when they come into their first orthopedic visit. In this case, they are sometimes put in a compression splint for 1-2 weeks, or a temporary cast, which will become loose as the edema resolves, and have to be replaced at the follow up visit.
With ActivArmor, the exact same process occurs, except when the swelling goes down, the patient will undergo a safe, touch-free, 30 second scan for an ActivArmor device and placed back into their temporary solution (compression/temp splint or bi-valved and wrapped cast) for 3-4 business days until the device arrives at the clinic (ActivArmor provides free temp splints to the clinic for use during this turnaround time). The appointment time is greatly reduced, as the patient does not need to have a cast applied and wait for it to dry, and the clinic does not have to have any supply inventory or staff time for prep, application of the cast and clean-up.
When the device arrives, the patient will need to stop into the clinic to have their ActivArmor device popped on, and the fit confirmed, in moments. Patients will not have to have their casts cut off and re-applied for each subsequent exam and x-ray, and will not have to have any additional appointments for replacement of their cast due to sweat, wet cast, skin irritation or smell. In addition, patients requiring a splint for continued support through the healing phases, will not have to pay for or be fitted with a second splint, as ActivArmor easily transitions from a non-removable cast to a removable splint.
Patients saving time casting, having their cast cut off and re-applied multiple times, and eliminating future splinting costs, find the pick-up trip worthwhile. In addition, as ActivArmor is watersafe and breathable, the patient can resume more normal activities while immobilized (such as showering, sweating, doing the dishes, gardening, etc.) The clinics benefit financially by multiplying their patient throughput with a 30-second scan instead of casting and eliminating all future casting for that patient, plus the staff time, inventory, and clinic space savings.