It is estimated that every 30 seconds an Orthotics device is manufactured across the world. In the conventional process it can take several visits to the Orthotics technician and can take weeks to get the device manufactured. The fit of this device depends entirely on the skill of the Certified Prosthetist/Orthotist and the technician who is manufacturing the same. Over the last 2 decades, use of software in the Orthotics and Prosthetics (O & P) practice has been on the rise.
With the advent of 3D printing and availability of 3D scanners, the adoption of 3D design is becoming very popular. The usual 3D CAD packages support the design of O & P products, however its usage requires a lot of expertise, experience, and training. Moreover, the CAD packages are expensive, and practitioner cannot afford the CAD package for his clinic. A lot of companies are trying to bridge this gap, making use of easy integration of scanning, algorithms that can design the Orthotics with a much simple process. Many of the new solutions do not need installation in the system and are cloud/browser based.
This article is an attempt to provide a high-level review of seven software packages that can be useful for O&P technicians. The author is not a Certified Prosthetist and Orthotist and cannot compare how well the software packages can be used in daily practice. The comparison shall be considered as an introduction of the same and not as recommendation for purchasing any of the same listed below.
O&P technicians who understood the challenges faced in their day-to-day work and wanted to make a solution to overcome those challenges created most of the companies or solutions mentioned above. They use the exact process followed by the O&P practitioner, except that it happens in a digital platform. This helps the learning process for the technicians and it is very easy and intuitive for them. The software developers also understand that the technician may not always opt for 3D printing of the device. Most of them have options to choose the manufacturing method, either to mill the same from a form block or covert the design to STL and send it directly to 3D printer. Another advantage of using the O&P software is that you will have the entire data in digital form and there is no need to store the carved forms or casts. This makes the inventory management relatively easier and allows the processing location to be clean.
There are different models in which the software platforms make revenue. The most preferred one is a subscription model where the customers pay for a certain fee for a specific number of designs made monthly. The trial versions are easily available, and experts provide the training materials.
The advantage of using digital platforms is that, the skills are easily transferable. With a few days of training you can start using the platform or change from one to another. However, this does not undermine the expertise and diagnostic capability of the practitioner in doing the diagnosis and making a perfect solution for the patient. Adoption of the software in O&P practice will become inevitable in few years. A study predicts that more than 50% of medical devices could be made using 3D Printing Technology by the year 2025 thus making the role of these software more important.
The use of digital workflow frees up more time for the technician to spend with patients, retrieve and compare data by click of button. The software is just another tool to help the process and make it easier and convenient. The practitioner remains at the core of the entire process.
If you found this article interesting do read Exploring the Orthotics and Prosthetics 3D Printing Ecosystem in UAE, the preceding article in this special Middle East Series.