COVID-19 is not an excuse for poor ethics with 3D printers

The UK government is asking 3D printers to manufacture parts for medical equipment. The companies that reply are quoted as saying things like:

with little knowledge about ventilation equipment, we believe that we could at least help with the manufacture of casings, clips and fixturing components and potentially more

They admit they have no knowledge of this area. This concerns me because the medical community has extremely careful testing processes, recognizing that people’s lives are at risk. If a ventilator fails, someone cannot breath. I realize that the COVID-19 is putting many pressures on the medical system but the IT community should not be using this as a chance to introduce new technology that would not normally be accepted.

3D printers have been around for a while. I wrote about them back in 2015.  By now the medical community would have introduced them for their great cost savings if they thought they could get them approved. We should not be taking advantage of the fact that the public are desperate.

The “success” case that has been reported in Italy shows how little preparation and testing was done.

A 3D-printer company in Italy has designed and printed 100 life-saving respirator valves in 24 hours for a hospital that had run out of them.

“They tested it on a patient and they told us that it worked well and so we ran again back to our office and we started to print new valves,”

They are working for free, but they do not plan to release the design publicly.

They explain:

“The valve has very thin holes and tubes, smaller than 0.8m – it’s not easy to print the pieces,” Mr Fracassi said.

“Plus you have to respect not [contaminating] the product – really it should be produced in a clinical way.”

To be fair, it is not just the 3D printer industry that is cutting corners.  Chinese regulatory authorities adopted a few emergency measures under certain “Special Review and Approval Procedures” to fast-track the review and approval process for developing diagnostic kits, vaccines and therapies for combating COVID-19 infections.

Some media are reporting hopes that new processes will help to change the Medical community after the current crisis.  This includes the “silver lining” that this is a huge stress test for electronic health record systems and old awkward systems “will require increased resources and rapid updating.”

I hope that cooler heads will ask that when the crisis is over, we review what has been done and ensure our quality of care remains protected. It is the right thing to do.

Good IT ethics say we must represent the IT issues correctly and protect the public.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog is an Information Systems Professional (retired) and has her Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Regina. She has worked in the IT industry since 1978. Most of those years were at SaskTel where she progressed from Programmer, to Business Analyst, to Manager. At one point she had over 48 IT positions reporting to her and she has experience outside of IT managing Engineers. As a Relationship Manager, Donna worked with executive to define the IT Principles so departmental roles were defined. As the Resource Manager in the Corporate Program/Project Management Office, she introduced processes to get resources for corporate priorities. In 2003 she was given the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Technology.

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