Shortages of PPE for healthcare workers could be tackled using social media and 3D printing

Researchers have come up with the use of social media and 3D printing techniques to deal with the severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for healthcare workers who are dealing with the highly infectious severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The study titled “How Social Media and 3D Printing Tackles the PPE Shortage during Covid–19 Pandemic,” was released prior to peer-review publication on Medrxiv.

What was this study about?

The world is reeling under the overwhelming burden of COVID-19 infections that have affected a large population spread over almost all the countries in the world. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is highly infectious and is easily transmitted between individuals. Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, and technicians, thus are at a considerable risk of acquiring the infection. Thousands of healthcare workers across the world are infected by the virus. In order to prevent infection of the healthcare workers dealing with potentially infected persons, they need to wear complete Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Each potentially infected patient must be examined wearing PPE that needs to be discarded once used to prevent the infection of other non-infected patients.

With the rising number of cases around the world, there has been an overwhelming of the healthcare systems in developed as well as developing nations. This has given rise to a severe shortage of this equipment. In this literature review, the authors looked at the use of social media, additive technology, and 3D printing techniques in order to deal with the shortage of PPE.


The World Health Organization (WHO), in October 2014, first came up with complete PPE guidelines that included “boot covers, inner and outer gloves, masks, face protectors, surgical hood coverall, outer apron and face shield.” The authors call these PPE as the “shield between the health professionals and germs” and say PPE should be mandatory in case of a pandemic. The authors explain that contamination and correct disposal of the PPE is mandatory and necessary to prevent the spread of infection. These measures are termed as “nonpharmaceutical barriers against the virus dissemination.” The authors of the study wrote that one of the measures of a tool called the “Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) model” is the correct use of the PPE. The QALY is a composite tool that looks at the possible outcome of an action (including correct use of PPE) on mortality or risk of death due to the condition.

Social media

One of the ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing. With social distancing, there is an increase in the use of social media. Authors wrote, “Social media is the modern way of communication and allows people to interact with each other via text, videos, pictures, and music.” Due to the pandemic, there are 1.5 billion active users of social media. They add that social media is increasingly being used for health-related purposes. Healthcare professionals, as well as others, use it for communication, and this form has the advantage of mass communication along with effective disease surveillance, wrote the researchers.

3D printing

3D printing technology was first developed from the Hideo Kodama, and Charles Hulls in the 1980s wrote the researchers. These additive technologies were in use in the aerospace and automotive industry as well as in the sports industry, toy manufacture, military, and bioengineering.

What was done in this study?

For this study, social media listeners were used to detect keywords related to PPE and 3D printing. Regarding the PPE, search words were used to look at the “development and dissemination of PPE and medical equipment parts.” They also looked at the effectiveness of 3D printed designs during the pandemic and the applicability of QALY model to see the effects of the PPE usage on the course of the pandemic.

To gather this information from social media, the team used a unique social media software called “Aware.” Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, websites, and blogs were all searched. The timelines of the search were between 1st January and 14th April 2020.

What was found?

Results showed that over 7 billion users had used the keywords COVID or similar on social media and other websites. PPE designs were discussed primarily on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Distribution of the same was also discussed on these platforms. Over the study period, more than 100 different designs of PPE were developed by the users following their discussion. They noted that 3.1 million users reacted to such posts on social media, and 3.9 million and 4.2 million users reacted when the specific keywords were used related to PPE. Posts regarding valves and ventilators ranged between 1.4 million and 3.1 million.

Conclusions and implications

The authors wrote that social media plays a role in tackling the PPE shortage during the pandemic. The social media can highlight the PPE shortage problem, can also “encourage and promote” the formation of teams and groups that can work on PPEs. This form of mass communication can also provide a platform for the exchange of “information and technology.” Social media can also help identify the owners of the 3D printers and also find the number of such printers needed to tackle the present problem. They concluded, “The QALY model was employed to show the importance and effect of using personal equipment on life quality and expectancy…Social networking and 3D printing combined can be seen as a new tool for tackling pandemic emergencies.”

*Important Notice

Medrxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
  • How Social Media and 3D Printing Tackles the PPE Shortage during Covid - 19 Pandemic Nick Vordos, Despoina A. Gkika, George Maliaris, Konstantinos Tilkeridis, Anastasia Antoniou, Dimitrios V. Bandekas, Athanassios Chris Mitropoulos medRxiv 2020.04.27.20081372; doi:
Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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