Makers Meet Medicine at Local Children's Hospital

July 24, 2016 | ProgressTH Last week, we organized together with QSNICH (Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health), a presentation and workshop showcasing the now nearly year-long collaboration between several nurses and our Bangkok-based makerspace, ProgressTH.

A year ago, nurses from QSNICH, a national children's hospital, approached us to see if 3D printing could be used to develop healthcare solutions throughout their hospital.

Nurses, it turns out, are also skilled part-time makers, often improvising on the spot with materials on hand to solve problems as they present themselves. However, with 3D printing, it is possible to solve these problems in a more permanent and precise manner, and then replicate these solutions accurately to be used on a larger scale.

So we began taking the concepts nurses presented to us, including a bubble-level used to calibrate bed height in the ICU, a needle disposal system, a child-friendly dermatology tool, and a blood clotting device, and began 3D printing prototypes for testing throughout the hospital.

We went through several iterations with the nurses over several months, who would provide us feedback throughout each step of the process so we could develop better solutions.

Today, some 20-30 needle disposal systems are being tested throughout the hospital, while nearly 50 dermatology tools are being put through their paces. The pediatric ICU has been using the bed leveling systems we developed together with ICU nurses for several months now as a permanent solution, and the blood clotting device has been presented to hospital administrators for evaluation.

During the presentation last week, nurses demonstrated these solutions to the media and before nearly 100 other nurses at the hospital. We also conducted a 3 hour workshop introducing 10-15 nurses and other healthcare professionals to 3D design for 3D printing using SketchUp Make, a free 3D design program available online.

Thai-made 3D printers based on readily available open source designs online have allowed several sectors in Thailand to take advantage of personal manufacturing technology, including design houses and universities, and now also hospitals.
The presentation was meant to inspire other nurses at QSNICH to think of how they could employ 3D printing to solve problems they might face, while the workshop was meant to give nurses both a starting point to further pursue 3D design if they desired, but also to give them a clear picture of the process makers and designers go through when creating a 3D printed object.

The media coverage of the event, we hope, will inspire other hospitals to begin thinking of how to best take advantage of emerging technology to overcome problems their doctors and nurses may be facing as well.

What has made this year-long collaboration the most rewarding from ProgressTH's perspective, is the passion the nurses at QSNICH exhibit for wanting to improve healthcare for the professionals providing it, and for the patients receiving it.

What's Next? 

Of course, we will continue our collaboration with QSNICH. But more importantly, we would like to expand it. Not just between QSNICH and ProgressTH to include more doctors and nurses and more projects, but also between other hospitals and other makerspaces.

A few days after the event, QSNICH hosted nurses from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai and shared with them their progress in employing 3D printing. We hope that Chiang Mai-based makerspaces link up with healthcare professionals there in a similar collaboration, and nationwide, create a network of makers available to help each other and healthcare professionals solve problems, reduce costs, and improve care for everyone.

Though only prototypes because of the material and the current limitations of 3D printing, these child-friendly dermatology tools can be sterilized several times and used in trials before being disposed of. If they are successful, much larger batches using better materials will be made by traditional manufacturing processes. 
Makerspaces in Chiang Mai possess a larger member base with a wider range of skills than ProgressTH. Their ability to help solve healthcare challenges with the skills shared among their members could make an even greater impact than we've made so far over the past year. Together, we can make a bigger impact still.

Eventually, the goal would be to have a national network sharing designs, files, and ideas online. It would also include hospitals themselves eventually having their own makerspaces inside their respective innovation departments.

The 3D printed blue caps fit on top repurposed disposable plastic bottles found readily throughout the hospital, turning them into a cheap and effective needle disposal system. The small notch on the cap to the left allows nurses to remove needles from syringes without having to touch them. 
The time and money saved by a hospital having its own in-house designer and fabrication equipment would be significant. Throughout ProgressTH's collaboration with QSNICH, we have found that the biggest cost in time and money involved is usually in traveling back and forth to the hospital and working around inevitable schedule conflicts.

Still, even as it currently stands, nurses at QSNICH admit that before, they simply had to do without. A week or two delay between iterations is nothing compared to no prospect at all of having these prototypes produced and put into use throughout the hospital.

We believe eventually that hospitals will fully take advantage of new tools that allow for same-day design, fabrication, and testing, and look forward to helping whichever hospitals in Thailand decide to take this leap forward. Over time, we expect that as localized design, development, and manufacturing is adopted by hospitals around the world, not only will the quality of care go up, the cost of care will drop.

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