Will 3-D printed orthotics be the near future in podiatry??
When my husband approached me about a month ago, proposing we start designing a system for creating custom orthotic inserts using a 3-D printer, I had a feeling we had already missed the ball. 3-D printers are available for purchase now and the smaller scale, build-your-own are relatively inexpensive (given the technology). I figured it was only a matter of time (and not much time for that) before someone would be unveiling their hip, new, quick and easy way to 3-D print orthotics. What I didn't expect was who would be the imaginative creator of this application.
Sure enough, last week, my husband sent me a link to an article on wired.com that tells how independent designer, Kegan Schouwenburg created her startup 'Sols'. Being that I regularly encounter people foot problems and deal with orthotics (custom or otherwise), I was interested to see what this startup had to offer and learn what benefits are being promoted in the article. While the technology is impressive, I'd still be curious to see this system in action. Sols has an app that allows for making adjustments and alter the arch or reposition the foot after a 3-D scan is uploaded into the app. The scan is taken with the use of a specialized sock placed on the foot. This certainly sounds like a good start and has potential to decrease the time from a patient's foot being scanned to when the orthotic is available.
One main concern I have with the plan discussed in the article is regarding a planned launch of a direct to consumer version of the service. This would mean that a 'patient' can scan their own foot with a smartphone and order a 'custom fit insert' for approximately $100. If the price of the orthotic isn't enticing, the novelty of it all certainly is...and that's where my concern lies. There is more to custom orthotics than having a scan of the foot. The other primary benefit of a custom orthotic is the ability to correct for biomechanical abnormalities that can lead to painful foot conditions. The positioning of the foot during any scanning or casting technique is a majority of what determines the level of comfort and effectiveness of the device. In addition, allowing anyone to scan their foot for an orthotic means that many modifications can be overlooked and it sounds as though these people would then be avoiding assessment of foot pain or injuries in the first place - now having Dr. Google and their own orthotic lab in their pocket.
It's exciting to see the possibilities that are coming with 3-D printing. Bear in mind though that no app can replace the caring, experienced specialist down the block. ;-)
For an overview on custom orthotics and how to know whether you need them or not, read this article by Dr. McNeill.
To read the original article, click here!
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