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The 3D-printed solution helping patients understand treatment for kidney disease

2 December 2021

Princess Alexandra Hospital renal nurses have pulled together the best minds in the business coming up with a novel 3D-printed model of an arm and fistula to help hundreds of patients overcome their ‘white coat amnesia’ around the complexities of dialysis.

Kidney transplant recipient and project manager for the National Indigenous Kidney Transplantation Taskforce (NIKTT), Kelli Owen describes the problem of white coat amnesia as patients receiving too much information in too many words which can be overwhelming.

“I couldn’t properly visualise what my doctors were describing about having a fistula inserted in my arm and, at the time, I wished there was something to touch, see, and feel to help wrap my head around what they meant,” she said.

Nurse Unit Manager for Renal and Transplant OPD, Amanda Lynch and her team embraced the issue as being particularly relevant for kidney disease which is very complex and patient education would benefit from tangible props alongside vital information so that patients could more readily understand what their treatment looks like.

“New patients get a lot of information from surgeons and this is particularly relevant for AV fistula’s which are inserted into a patient’s arm to enable dialysis,” Amanda said.

“Normal veins are too small for dialysis, so the surgeon has to create a vein that is bigger, stronger and wider. What is harder to understand is that fistulas are added as a long-term solution for renal replacement therapy so patients will have this fistula for life.”

The solution to understanding AV fistula insertion involved a collaborative effort from the renal team of Amanda, Clinical Nurse Consultant Gary Torrens, and Haemodialysis Clinical Nurse Lisa Gordon approaching the Australian Centre for Complex Integrated Surgical Solutions (ACCISS) based at PAH for help creating a 3D-printed model of an arm containing a fistula.

Renal collaborations with ACCISS are already proving a success with Gary using a 3D model of the renal system to explain surgery, kidney location and transplant location to remote communities in north west Queensland as part of his many yarning sessions.

ACCISS technician Jeremy Keevers was able to design the fistula model prototype and even used culturally appropriate colours that would work well with the indigenous population to better understand how a fistula works.

Amanda said the models will help many patients with low health literacy given it makes it easier to visulalise over a drawing or the written word, and so far nine models have been commissioned for use across Metro South and Ipswich renal units to address white coat amnesia.

“Both nurses and doctors are using the models to better explain the surgery and this is empowering to our patients who are better informed about their treatment and can ask more questions,” she said.

Last updated 2 December 2021
Last reviewed 2 December 2021

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