3D printers are already helping people worldwide bypass guilds and inefficient systems. CBS news recently ran a profile on Paul McCarthy, who developed a 3D printed prosthetic hand for his son Leon. Leon was born without any fingers on one hand, but McCarthy was able to find a free design online that he used to make a functioning set of fingers. A traditional prosthetic hand costs $20,000 to $30,000 dollars, but McCarthy only paid five bucks for the 3D printed version. This is a clear example of how 3D printing can revolutionize the delivery of medical devices and bring down costs throughout the health care system.
Something similar is happening in Haiti, where a non-profit is empowering ordinary people to make medical equipment for themselves. 21st Century Wire:
Our organization, iLab // Haiti has brought the first two 3D printers to the country of Haiti. We have partnered with KIDmob to teach critical thinking, creative problem solving, adaptability, and communication along with the technical skills of rapid prototyping….
Some of their first projects are simple medical devices, such as umbilical cord clamps, which they are currently prototyping (on their fourth iteration). These medical devices would be 3D printed for direct use in local clinics with on-demand manufacturing. Hyper-local manufacturing will bypass inefficient and corrupt import systems that are currently the only option available.
This shift toward a medical system in which people can produce more of their own medical materials will dramatically undermine the privileged gatekeepers that currently control the delivery of care—whether corrupt foreign governments or special health care interests at home. Not a moment too soon.