Economic potential for distributed manufacturing of adaptive aids for arthritis patients in the U.S.
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By 2040, more than a quarter of the U.S. population will have diagnosed arthritic conditions. Adults with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions earn less than average yet have medical care expenditures that are over 12% of average household income. Adaptive aids can help arthritis patients continue to maintain independence and quality of life; however, their high costs limit accessibility for older people and the poor. One method used for consumer price reduction is distributed manufacturing with 3-D printers. In order to assess if such a method would be financially beneficial, this study evaluates the techno-economic viability of distributed manufacturing of adaptive aids for arthritis patients. Twenty freely accessible designs for 3-D printable adaptive aids were successfully fabricated on low-cost desktop 3-D printers and performed their functions adequately. The financial savings averaged >94% compared to commercially-available products. Overall, twenty adaptive aids were printed for US$20 of plastic; while on average, each adaptive aid would save over US$20. As printing a tiny subset of the adaptive aids needed by a single patient would recover the full capital and operational costs of a low-cost 3-D printer, it can be concluded that there is considerable potential for distributed manufacturing to assist arthritis patients.