Phoenix Children's CIO: 3D innovation redefining diagnosis and treatment

Chief information officer David Higginson explains how the hospital is using 3D printing for heart surgery, tumor management and sharing images with patients and their families.
By David Higginson
07:56 AM
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Phoenix Children's 3D printing

Our 3D Innovation Lab is redefining the way physicians approach diagnosis and provide treatment across all medical disciplines. With leading-edge tools and expert providers on staff, our clinical teams constantly seek out opportunities to improve their work, uncover new possibilities, and usher in new treatment protocols when the evidence supports it.

3D imaging informs treatment and improves the care of pediatric patients in a variety of ways.

Our lab has married 3-D printing and advanced post-processing technologies, allowing physicians to create accurate models of defective hearts, limb deficiencies, injured internal organs, and even tumors.

[Also: Healthcare IT News names Phoenix Children's #1 Large Best Hospital IT Department 2016]

Some of the most notable examples include:

Heart Surgery
3D has become the foundation for heart surgery planning at Phoenix Children’s Heart Center. Using images from the 3D Innovation Lab, our cardiovascular surgeons produce 3D prints for patients with heart defects. As no two patients are exactly the same, surgeons study 3-D images and printed models to unravel any complexities prior to surgery.

In other words, they hold a model of each patient's heart in their hands, planning the surgery from start to finish, before ever stepping foot in the operating room. The models also help families understand their infant’s surgery and help train medical students and residents.

Tumor Measurement
Tumors are notoriously difficult to measure given their unusual sizes and shapes. Current protocols call for measuring tumors using length, width and height – or xyz – data. This method is problematic because the margin of error is 200-300 percent, creating a significant challenge in determining appropriate therapies in patients with malignant tumors. At best, xyz provides a guesstimate of a tumor’s true volume. 

At Phoenix Children’s, our Division of Pediatric Radiology uses 3D technology to determine a tumor’s exact size and allows physicians to discern subtle changes in size or shape over time and treatment. The superior precision of 3D imaging allows oncologists to identify the most viable course of treatment and determine whether treatments are shrinking a patient’s tumor.

Image viewing
We are allowing the patient and family to view their child’s 3D image on their tablets and phones via our patient portal. In addition, physicians are able to see and manipulate the image inside the EMR.

As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, innovation in process, delivery models, information dissemination and medical systems will drive efficient, high-quality and cost-effective medical care. 


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