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3-d Printed Replacement Organs for Workers’ Comp?

August 26th, 2013

Star trek fans will recall the fact that on the Enterprise, a crewman (or woman) could order any meal, or really any object, and the replicator would instantly make it.  How many times have doctors (and patients) wished that they could just have whatever they needed appear in a flash of light.  Well, picture if you can, dear readers, the following:

Carl the carpenter loses a hand on the job.  Larry the asbestos taste-tester has lungs that are giving out.  Drake the professional bartender needs a new liver from drinking with customers on the job (as his boss encouraged him to do).  All three of these poor guys are sitting on a bench in a clinic, waiting for their appointment.

By the end of the day, they have each ended up in the recovery room following the surgical insertion of replacement organs – organs “printed” with a 3-d printer.  The wait list is now for operating rooms and surgeons, not organs.  The limits are now litigating causation, not the realm of the scientifically possible.

Imagine a fee schedule which lists the reimbursement allowed for a printed heart, lung, eye, liver, or hand.  That’s the future, and it looks to be getting closer.

Workers’ compensation is slow to pick up on changes in the outside world, primarily the market is not present here: the legislators decide what a gallon of milk costs, and a Judge decides what an hour of time is worth (in case you’re curious, ask around what applicants’ attorneys are allowed to charge for an hour of deposition time, and then ask around what the average defense attorney gets to bill by the hour).

But eventually, when this science fiction miracle becomes a reality, some things will have to change: amputations may become irrelevant, diseases of various organs won’t need to be cured but simply the organ will be replaced, and the labor code will need to keep up.

This tech is years away from being applied and in large enough numbers to make it worth-while.  But we in the workers’ comp community, especially on the defense side, need to be aware of this for the simple reason that effective treatment in this form may replace permanent disability impairment and the need for future treatment.

Think also what this will do to the industry of turning injured workers with dull or sharp pain into drug addicts – instead of doping the injured worker into Cracky McDopeAlot, what if we could replace his injured shoulder with a new one, fresh off the 3-d printer?  And, of course, we’re not talking about mechanical metal or plastic joints replacing once-living tissue, but living tissue replacing living tissue.

Just keep your eyes on the horizon, dear readers, science may find a way to put a good amount of parasite-snake-oil-salesman-doctors out of work, and workers back to work.

Yeah Science

Live Long and Prosper!

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