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How NHS maxillofacial prosthetists enhance the healing of burn patients with Artec Leo

Anthony Simpson, Nina Sykes, and Lily Dewhurst contributed to this article.

Challenge: Prosthetists at the maxillofacial prosthetics department of Whiston Hospital needed a safe, contactless, and precise technology to get an accurate digital representation of patient burns to enable accurate splint manufacture for personalized treatment.

Solution: Artec Leo, Artec Studio

Results: Burn survivors were scanned with the Artec Leo as an alternative to the conventional impression method. The scan data was then processed into a uniquely precise 3D model and used for accurate burn splints fitting and customized pressure therapy, more comfortable for patients.

Why Artec? Artec 3D technology has transformed burn treatment by enabling the team to create prosthetic devices that closely match the patient's individual anatomy, improving both function and aesthetics, as well as providing support and comfort.

Leo for treating burns

Whiston Hospital: a pillar of next-gen healthcare

Looking for ways to improve techniques and patient outcomes

Burn survivors commonly experience potentially life-changing injuries including scarring; they can also be left dealing with emotional trauma.

Rehabilitating these scars is delicate, persistent, and often painstaking work for both the team and patients. Worldwide, changes to patient care are implemented to help improve outcomes and quality of life. Problems commonly found with traditional techniques can hinder healing, cause further issues for the patient, and can ultimately delay patients’ ability to reintegrate themselves into normal life. Conventional methods of impression taking for splint manufacture can be uncomfortable and distressing for the patient. The introduction of digital scanning using the Artec Leo has been revolutionary within the department’s practice.

Whiston Hospital has an impressive track record when it comes to medical research, patient experience, and access to services. As part of the Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, it is home to the Mersey Regional Burns, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Unit along with award-winning surgery, cancer, and chemotherapy units.

To match the ultra-modern approach to healthcare, next-generation technology is frequently used, so it was only logical for the team to consider 3D scanning in burns rehabilitation. In recent years, 3D digitization has become increasingly valuable in burn care and reconstruction, from wound assessment to customized dressings and splints, to prosthetic design and scar treatment.

Shortly before the pandemic, the team in the Prosthetics department started exploring 3D scanning technology with Artec Leo, the tetherless flagship scanner from Artec 3D.

Leo for treating burns

Artec Leo’s HD screen provides doctors with a real-time view of patient scans. Photo courtesy of the Prosthetics Department, Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospital

“Prior to incorporating the Artec Leo in to our department, we used conventional techniques, utilising impression materials to take an impression of a patient’s face or neck. This can be uncomfortable for the patient, take time, and potentially be inaccurate,” said Anthony Simpson, Prosthetics and Laser service lead at the department. “Currently, we use the scanner for up to 95% of patients, and this is a proving to be lot more accurate than conventional techniques.”

The easiest of tools for the hardest of tasks

Before making their decision, Simpson and his team consulted Central Scanning’s Alex Chung, who gave the healthcare professionals a live demo of the different scanners. An Artec Ambassador, Central Scanning has provided 3D solutions (and expert advice) for a wide range of medical applications, including dentistry, prosthetics, orthotics, and surgery.

After learning the basics with Chung, the team at Whiston went on to use the scanner in their daily work, quickly realizing that their workflow became faster and – perhaps most importantly – less invasive and traumatic for their patients.

It came as a pleasant surprise that the technology didn’t take long to master. The team described this as an intuitive process of trying and learning by doing – scanning first, then transferring the files from the scanner to the laptop, then using the software. Even now, having come to grips with the most challenging scanning scenarios, the practitioners are excited to keep exploring the scanner’s settings, simply because there are so many innovative features.

“Once we understood all of our methods, we were up and running quite quickly with what we needed to do. And we were aware there was an awful lot more that we could do with the scanner, and a lot more settings,” confirmed Nina Sykes, Prosthetics and Laser deputy service lead.

Leo for treating burns

With Leo’s gentle learning curve, medical staff can swiftly incorporate technology into their workflow, focusing on essential tasks. Photo courtesy of the Prosthetics Department, Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospital

If there’s one thing about Artec Leo that is remarkable, it is how easily and quickly a specialist can move around their object. The AI-driven, completely wireless Leo guarantees freedom and flexibility, which is priceless in a hospital ward when scanning a patient. A doctor gets clean 3D data in minutes and sees the exact, true-to-life digital replica being built in real time straight on the scanner’s HD screen. What the team could do with Artec Leo was dramatically different.

“It’s so much easier than taking an impression of a patient at a patient’s bedside or going on to different wards,” continued Sykes. “You can just pick it up and take it, whereas before we had to take a trolley full of impression materials which can be intrusive, messy and distressing.”

Smooth workflow for a soothing patient experience

Obtaining accurate data became a matter of seconds, and the team now has a proven procedure: first, a patient gets scanned with Leo, then the scan data is transferred to a laptop for further alterations and refinement in Artec Studio, after which the file can be sent to their colleagues, who can use specialized software, such as Geomagic Freeform, to smooth the scarring and get the eventual 3D model into the desirable shape and size. The latter happens in a lab, where the final designs of the compression devices can also be immediately 3D-printed.

“After scanning, we process the data,” Simpson explained. “Then we transfer that to our colleagues in our other lab. They smooth all the cording, all the scarring in the desired areas, and print that model off for us. It is an incredibly easy, clean and accurate method of model manufacture. From this printed model we then create a vacuum formed splint using PETG. That creates an accurate fitting splint for the patients.”

While the team found that scanning patients in most cases was quicker, easier and more accurate than conventional techniques, some patients’ faces could be more challenging than others, factoring in typically difficult to scan features such as a beard or moustache.

What the team found especially valuable was their patients’ feedback. Many burn survivors at The Trust experienced both methods, and preferred 3D scanning to taking impressions since it was a much less invasive procedure, potentially saving them a lot of physical discomfort and emotional stress.

“They love it,” said Sykes. “We had one patient, who’s had splints made using both methods, starting off with the impression taking. She said she found this quite invasive, quite uncomfortable, while she just loved the scan and how close the splint fitted and the accuracy of it.”

Leo for treating burns

Precision in every detail: scanning the burn area for a comprehensive assessment. Photo courtesy of the Prosthetics Department, Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospital

Both Anthony Simpson and Nina Sykes are certain that 3D scanning creates a much better patient experience. The technology can also boost the confidence and trust in people going through a long and often traumatic healing process. According to the doctors, the true reading of burns, the quality and uniformity of the results they managed to get with the Leo, inspires both the medical staff and their ward.

“As you go in to see the patient with the scanner, it just looks professional and modern,” shared Simpson, “and we can just turn it around and show patients the scan and what we've achieved straight after we’ve scanned them.”

More types of treatment to transform

The clinicians also see great potential in exploring the scanner and its capabilities, reflecting on more possible applications. Having honed their own approach, they discuss if and how the technology can be used by different teams to take more types of treatment to a new level. For example, specialists in a burn therapy team have wondered if the team could scan an axilla to potentially make splints for the axillary area.

Meanwhile, enquiries and ideas have come from reconstructive surgeons and doctors who measure scar volume or study tissue integration – which promises more growth areas with the introduction of 3D scanning solutions. All this is a brilliant example of how transformative 3D scanning can be used in medical workflows, and treating burns in particular.

It hasn’t been long since wound healing started shifting from the existing standard treatment (often found slow and painful) towards newer, less invasive technologies. While there has been significant progress in various skin wounds treatment, it was not until healthcare professionals embraced 3D technology that more gentle methods found their way to clinics and labs.

At Whiston Hospital, 3D scanning is now more than just technology. It has become a way of comforting burn survivors while also providing them with a high-quality, incomparably faster, more accurate treatment.

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