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Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Chris Wilkinson of Kearney Orthopedic & Sports Medicine, a Division of Kearney Regional Medical Center, is the only practitioner within a 100+ mile radius currently utilizing cutting-edge 3D technology in his total knee replacements.

The technology comes from Boston-based company, Conformis, which has developed patient-specific implants via advanced 3D imaging technology and the latest manufacturing capabilities. The company manufactures each implant based on the patient’s unique size and shape.

Dr. Wilkinson has done about 300 procedures in the last three years utilizing this technology. He says he’s seen a decrease in patients’ post-procedure pain from about 20 percent reporting pain, to about five percent. He believes this is due to the patient-specific design of the product. The Conformis product has only a one-millimeter overhang whereas most “off-the-shelf” products average about a three-millimeter overhang. This extra overhang can cause painful rubbing.

The process for receiving a Conformis-fitted implant starts by receiving a CT scan to create a 3D model of the knee so implants and instrumentation can be designed to fit precisely to the patient’s anatomy. It takes about six weeks for the product be designed, produced and shipped. Dr. Wilkinson noted that off-the-shelf products average about a three-week wait in comparison.

Conformis implants are covered, billed, and coded under most private insurance, as well as Medicare. And because Kearney Regional Medical Center was named a Center of Excellence in 2019 by Blue Cross and Blues Shield, patients may be able to have their deductible and coinsurance waived for total knee replacement surgeries.

The custom-fit knee is shipped to the clinic in a box along with a custom “cutting block” for the surgeon, allowing for ultimate precision and faster recovery. The customized implants are cemented to the patient’s existing bones using a standard polyethylene.

Dr. Wilkinson recalled one patient in his Cambridge clinic that received two total-knee replacements from him—one using a standard implant and one with the Conformis-brand custom implant. Dr. Wilkinson said the patient’s Conformis-brand knee bio-mechanically moved better and had about ten percent more motion. The patient also preferred the Conformis knee.

Not all patients of Wilkinson received the 3D-printed product. Each patient is evaluated based on their own specific needs and preferences. In regards to why the product isn’t being used by other practices outside of Lincoln and Omaha, Wilkinson noted the need for more information about this new technology and the benefits to patients.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, several conditions can cause joint pain and disability and lead patients to consider joint replacement surgery. In many cases, joint pain is caused by damage to the cartilage that lines the ends of the bones (articular cartilage)—either from arthritis, a fracture, or another condition. If nonsurgical treatments like medications, physical therapy, and changes to everyday activities do not relieve your pain and disability, your doctor may recommend total joint replacement.

This story was also featured in the Kearney Hub