The Veterans Health Administration is building up processes to 3D print its own medical devices, striking a new contract with a 3D printing company.
Under the contract, the Veterans Health Administration will purchase 3D printers, software and other printing materials from company 3D Systems. 3D Systems will also work with the Veterans Health Administration to set up a manufacturing program that complies with regulations from the Food and Drug Administration.
The Veterans Health Administration and 3D Systems did not disclose financial details of the agreement in their announcement.
For many health systems across the U.S., 3D printing capabilities have helped to create face masks, test kit swabs and ways to adapt and repair breathing machines amid COVID-19.
Half of respondents in Modern Healthcare's May Power Panel survey of top healthcare CEOs cited 3D printing as a technology with significant potential to support their COVID-19 response.
The Veterans Health Administration's new contract builds on a collaboration it kicked off with 3D Systems in the early days of the pandemic. The Veterans Health Administration used 3D printing to create surgical face masks and address a shortage of personal protective equipment, as well as printing nasopharyngeal swabs used for COVID-19 testing.
In-house 3D printing has become more common at hospitals in recent years, in part because the design software has become more user-friendly, Jaime Schlorff, a senior project officer with ECRI's health devices group, told Modern Healthcare in March. It can lead to more effective devices, since staff can customize them for patients' needs.
When a hospital moves into a manufacturing role in lieu of simply purchasing devices, it adds new responsibilities.
Hospitals need to follow established guidances, such as those from the FDA, when 3D printing to ensure they're setting up good quality-control procedures for the devices they create.
The Veterans Health Administration will collaborate with 3D Systems on developing quality and regulatory management practices as part of the contract.
The organizations plan to work together to design medical devices and, when needed, take them through FDA clearance. 3D Systems initially will manage regulatory paperwork to file applications with the FDA and set up a quality management process; eventually, they will train staff at the Veterans Health Administration to do those tasks.
"In a highly regulated environment like healthcare, the technology is only a small part of the solution," said Ben Johnson, director of product development for healthcare at 3D Systems, in a statement.