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  • Apr 21, 2017 | By David

    The 3D printing industry in South Korea has just received a significant boost, with the announcement of a new state initiative. The government has released details of an evaluation and compensation system soon to be established in the medical device industry, which will provide particular incentives for the use of newer, innovative technologies. Medical devices that make use of 3D printing, as well as artificial intelligence and robotics, will be evaluated more effectively and partially funded by the new government scheme.

    In 2016 South Korea’s 3D printing industry was worth around $75 million, under 2 percent of the global 3D printing market, and increasing its 3D printing footprint has been a priority of the South Korean government for a number of years now. We reported before on efforts to improve use and development of 3D printing in the country, with initial discussions around the easing of regulations and various tax breaks starting last year. The possibility was mooted last May of fast-tracking certain 3D printed devices for approval, intending to make innovative procedures in life-or-death situations easier to adopt.

    The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced on April 16 that the first meeting of the Healthcare Industry System Improvement Committee was held, and improvements were announced for 8 different sectors of the healthcare system. The discussions were based on counseling cases and suggestions collected from the Medical Device Industry Comprehensive Support Center, a consulting body that provides support for companies hoping to enter the medical device market. Apparatuses, machinery and materials all received special attention.

    It was decided that a new evaluation system would be established for newer technologies like 3D printing. Existing knowledge and regulations concerning the approval of medical devices was limited, being based on older, more traditional methods of treatment. This tended to slow down the adoption of these technologies in the healthcare system, with up to 280 days often required for approval. The lack of technical expertise also left open the possibility of unsafe, inadequately tested devices being approved. The newly established New Medical Technology Evaluation Committee, consisting mostly of medical doctors, will collaborate with biomedical engineers and other technology experts as part of the new, specialized evaluation system, which will hopefully go some way to rectifying these problems.

    Another way in which the implementation of 3D printing technology in healthcare will be given a helping hand is improved pricing. The greater cost effectiveness of 3D printed devices, as well as their improved clinical effects, means that they will receive financial incentives from the government as part of the setting of their price for health insurance premiums. Compensation will be provided to the companies developing new medical devices by the end of 2017, if improvements in care and cost are observed. A new categorization system will also allow for products approved after 2012 to be calculated separately, by classifying them as medical devices instead of therapeutic materials.

    An easier-to-understand health insurance and benefit system were also recommended as part of the Ministry for Health and Welfare’s new direction. According to Kim Gang-pil, director of the Health and Medical Policy Division of the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, ‘‘The role of newly developed medical devices and technologies is very important. We plan to steadily improve the system and support the industry so that the health industry can develop as a future growth engine centering on the development of these new technologies.” It’s promising to see 3D printing technology and the healthcare industry recognized as mutually beneficial by the government in this way, and we are likely to see a more robust 3D printing sector in South Korea as a result of these new measures, as well as improved and cheaper care for patients.


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