Diana Hall is transforming the way your next cast or splint is made. Know anyone with a broken bone or carpal tunnel syndrome?
We have all had broken bones at some point, or have a family member who did. Remember how itchy and heavy and cumbersome the plaster cast was? And good luck trying to bathe and not get it wet.
I had a fascinating conversation with Ms. Hall, founder of ActivArmor, a small 18-month-old company based in southern Colorado earlier this week. Her work with a local non-profit mentoring people on how to lift themselves out of poverty led her to a young boy, a first-grader living with his disabled grandparents.
After breaking an arm, the boy didn’t keep his cast dry when showering — what 6 or 7 year old child can? And, like any other young boy, he didn’t tell his doctor that he got the cast wet. The result was a skin infection that has left the arm scarred for life.
Ms. Hall thought “Why?” Why, with the ability to produce human exoskeletons, can we not make casts that can get wet? And provide the same or better benefits of traditional casts and splints, for children and adults?
The idea is not wholly new. I spoke about FATHOM at the Gartner Symposium in 2014. A 3D printer sales, advanced prototype fabrication and low volume manufacturer, FATHOM had an idea for 3D-printed personalized casts — complete with the “get well” wishes that friends write on the traditional plaster cast. Only these wishes are printed as part of the cast.
Photo source: FATHOM
Using the #CAST mobile app, users can incorporate personalized messages from their social networks into the cast. Once approved by the user, a custom fit design is generated, the cast is 3D-printed and delivered to their medical facility and fitted on the user by a specialist. As the designer, Ava DeCapri said, “We are taking something that is usually a big bummer, breaking your arm, and turning it into a fun and social experience.”
Well, ActivArmor’s casts are not formed by text but do enable printed logos and are bright and fun and social — and practical — casts:
Photo source: ActivArmor
ActivArmor uses a combination of commercially available software, scanners and materials with its proprietary software and 3D printing hardware to produce casts and splints. The process begins with a doctor’s prescription for the cast or splint. The patient takes the script to a clinic where a handheld scanner provided by ActivArmor is used to create a digital image of the limb that is accurate to 0.5 mm. The file with an identifying number but no personal information is uploaded to ActivArmor.
ActivArmor’s designers then spend about a half hour adapting their designs to the patient’s requirements — after all, broken bones can happen anywhere along an arm, hand or leg. Or the physician may have asked that the 3D-printed cast be open in a certain area so an incision can be monitored, thicker in certain areas, or adaptable for use with other technologies such as TENS, EMS and bone stimulators to reduce healing/recovery time or for pain management.
The 3D-printable file is then sent to a contract manufacturer who does the custom fabrication and finishing work on the 100% ABS plastic devices. Post-processing with anti-bacterial and anti-microbial solutions completes the printing process. The 3D-printed cast or splint is returned to ActivArmor where it is inspected and then sent to the clinic. The process takes 3 days, during which time a temporary cast or splint is provided to the patient.
ActivArmor charges the clinic for the 3D scan and printing. The clinic in turn bills the patient or insurers based on the appropriate codes for standardized splinting and supplemental services at its negotiated rates.
ActivArmor devices are registered and listed with the FDA as a Class 1 immobilization splint. ActivArmor cannot make any medical claims about the efficacy of its devices. Ms. Hall has a utility patent on the exoskeleton design and process outcome but the details are trade secrets.
We all know someone who has had to wear a cast on parts — or nearly all — of their body. Certainly the experience of the young boy is something we want to prevent from happening to anyone else. And athletes can benefit from off-field, recovery use of a 3D-printed cast or splint because you can sweat, shower and ice-bath in them.
But one of the most compelling stories that Ms. Hall shared with me was about military veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Some vets with PTSD suffer from claustrophobia so badly they cannot wear a traditional solid plaster cast. ActivArmor is the only cast these veterans can wear.
Photo source: ActivArmor
Ms. Hall is working with research hospitals across the country to advance the materials and hold clinical trials to validate improvements in healing outcomes, including reduced infection rates with antibacterial/antimicrobial plastic, and to gain approval from the FDA as a Class II medical device. In the meantime, Ms. Hall is seeking partners to roll out its offering across the USA. Indeed, ActivArmor has already been contacted by military and other organizations who understand the potential benefits of personalized 3D printed casts, splints and other medical devices for children and adults, athletes and service members worldwide.
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