As it became clear shortages of N95 respirator masks would stymie providers and put them in grave danger as they responded to COVID-19, hospitals around the nation began to brainstorm ways to boost supplies.
For many health systems, 3D printing capabilities have served them well—helping to create face masks, test kit swabs and ways to adapt and repair breathing machines.
The technology that was just a few years ago called an industry game-changer because it offered options to create cheaper medical devices and supplies is helping providers navigate the dangers of caring for the nation’s pandemic victims.
Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, and Duke University in Durham, N.C., are among those that have leveraged their internal 3D printing capabilities. UCI Medical Center in Orange, Calif., teamed up with its medical students.
They’ve all produced face shields, which help prevent contamination of N95 masks and prolong their use as they’re being rationed. Face shields also prevent face-touching, which is essential to stop the virus’ spread.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month warned that 3D-printed equipment is “unlikely to provide the same fluid barrier and air filtration protection as FDA-cleared surgical masks and N95 respirators,” providers say that’s not what they’re looking for.
“This isn’t meant to replace N95 masks,” said Evan Levine, senior director of academic and media technologies at Duke’s Office of Information Technology. “This is not full protection. This goes directly in front of your mask, and this would stop anything that (comes at your face). The real goal here is to prolong the life of the N95.”