Effectiveness of Three-Dimensionally Printed Models in Anatomy Education for Medical Students and Resident Physicians: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of the American College of Radiology








3-D printing; Anatomy education; medical student; meta-analysis; systematic review


© 2020 American College of Radiology Introduction: Despite a surge in the use of three-dimensional printing (3DP) in medical education, a comprehensive evaluation of randomized trials in its effectiveness is lacking. Radiologic studies play an integral role in affording educators the ability to create customized realistic anatomic models. This systematic review and meta-analysis sought to assess the effect of 3DP versus traditional 2-D methods for anatomy education. Methods: PubMed, Scopus, Cochrane Library, ERIC, and IEEE Xplore were queried to identify randomized controlled trials that quantitatively investigated anatomy education via postintervention assessments of medical students or resident physicians who were exposed to 3DP versus traditional methods. Criteria for the meta-analysis required that studies additionally included a pre-intervention assessment. Results: A total of 804 articles were reviewed, identifying 8 and 7 studies for systematic reviews of medical students and resident physicians, respectively, of which 4 and 7 were included in the meta-analyses. 3DP models were associated with higher anatomy examination scores for medical students (P < .0001), but for resident physicians were statistically not significant (P = .53). Discussion: The 3DP models are shown to positively impact medical students especially given their limited fund of knowledge in anatomy. It is postulated that the lack of a statistically significant result for the resident physicians was multifactorial, in part because of the small test group sizes introducing noise and nonrepresentative samples, as well as relative simplicity of the 3DP models used with resident physicians, which were below their level of training. More trials are required to evaluate the usefulness of highly customized 3DP models.

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