Imaging innovations: Seeing your future self before plastic surgery
The line between reality and aspiration often blurs in a world where Instagram filters and Photoshop can easily manipulate appearances. Yet, advancements in imaging technology such as Cirsalix and VECTRA have allowed the field of plastic surgery to undergo a significant evolution so doctors and patients can better determine the results of a procedure.
These innovations are shaping the ways in which plastic surgeons communicate with patients, design treatment plans and even measure postoperative satisfaction. ASPS Member Surgeons Ira Savetsky, MD, and Kelly Killeen, MD, weigh in on the transformative power of these tools and what they mean for both surgeons and patients alike.
Bridging expectations and reality
Navigating the gap between patient expectations and achievable surgical outcomes has long been a challenge in the field of plastic surgery. While patients are often influenced by images they see – be it celebrities, influencers or picture-perfect avatars on social media – they sometimes overlook the uniqueness of their own anatomy.
"Sometimes patients come with an idea of what they want and they have some photo of a celebrity," said Killeen. "But when they actually see the change in their own body, it's not the same thing." This phenomenon speaks to a larger issue of perception versus reality. Patients may covet a particular celebrity's nose or jawline, but those features may not be compatible with their own facial structure or may not produce the same aesthetic effect they are expecting.
Enter modern imaging technology like Crisalix, which serves as a bridge between what patients think they want and what medical professionals know is achievable.
"Crisalix and similar imaging innovations enable surgeons to better communicate with patients about the potential outcomes of their procedures," said Savetsky. "They can visually explain what changes are possible, manage patient expectations and address any concerns."
These state-of-the-art tools can project a simulated image of the patient's post-procedure body, taking into account their unique anatomical factors. This gives the patient a chance to see a more realistic outcome tailored to their body rather than a celebrity's. It is a powerful way to manage expectations, allowing the surgeon to discuss the limitations and possibilities of the planned surgery in a much more concrete and personalized manner.
This not only enhances the surgeon's ability to communicate, as Savetsky pointed out, but also allows the patient to have a clearer understanding of what to realistically expect. Consequently, this may lead to higher satisfaction rates post-surgery, as the patient's expectations are aligned more closely with the actual outcomes.
Educating through visualization
Imaging tools act as a common reference point during discussion, "ensuring that both parties are on the same page," as Savetsky put it. Some of these tools are wonderful for certain procedures, but they might not be as effective for others.
"Since I do primarily breasts, VECTRA is awesome for augmentation simulation," said Killeen. "I think VECTRA does a decent job for breast implant simulation, but when it comes to implant removal, breast reduction and fat grafting, I do think that the team really looks to those particular types of procedures, and it's just more of a Photoshop job. And I don't love using it for those things as much for that."
Additionally, complexities such as how the skin will retract after implant removal or how scarring may appear post-breast reduction are factors that the current versions of these technologies may not adequately address.
Despite these limitations, the very existence of such a tool represents a significant step forward in the consultation process, giving patients a tangible touchpoint to gauge their expectations. Importantly, these limitations also provide valuable insights into where research and development could focus in the future to make these tools even more versatile and accurate.
One of the most transformative aspects of advancements in imaging technology, particularly Crisalix and VECTRA, is their capability to educate patients through visual aids. This feature serves as an invaluable tool for doctors to lay out the potential results of a procedure, mitigating any fear or apprehension that a patient might have.
"Ultimately, the objective is to equip patients with comprehensive, precise insights to make educated decisions without undue influence or disillusionment," said Savetsky.
The role of technology in enhancing patient comfort
Imaging tools have not only made the consultation process more accessible to patients but also elevated it. They act as a common reference point during consultations, bridging any communication gaps that might exist between a surgeon's medical jargon and a patient's understanding.
The visual element incorporated by these technologies allows patients to see a version of what they might look like after a particular surgery.
"Patients can see a simulated 'before-and-after' view, providing a tangible and relatable way to understand the changes that surgery can bring," said Savetsky. "This visual representation makes it easier for patients to grasp what's achievable and what might not be possible."
It is one thing to discuss in abstract terms what a patient might look like post-surgery, but it is quite another to offer a visual representation of it. This helps remove a great deal of uncertainty from the equation, leading to more informed decisions.
Killeen also noted a palpable difference in how patients feel going into surgery when they have had a visual walkthrough.
"I did notice that patients were more comfortable going into surgery and during the healing process because they know what is happening versus just a thought in the dark," said Killeen. "They also have an idea of where this is going to go, and I think that's a more comfortable place to be for patients, really."
This implies that such imaging technologies might have a comforting psychological impact, preparing patients for the emotional and physical journey they are about to embark upon. Additionally, these technologies assist in personalizing the patient's surgical journey, making it not just a procedure but an experience that they are actively a part of.
Savetsky elaborated that "these tools allow surgeons to create 3D visualizations of potential surgical outcomes," effectively tailoring the treatment plan to each patient's unique anatomy and aesthetic desires.
In a medical field as emotionally charged as plastic surgery, where the stakes are not just physical but also deeply psychological, the role of technologies like Crisalix and VECTRA becomes more critical. They are not just shaping bodies – they are shaping expectations, experiences and satisfaction.
Ethical considerations and challenges
Yet, discretion must be used with imaging because it can lead to some sticky ethical situations, especially with opportunistic surgeons.
"We are going to have patients come in with a printout from some app and say, 'This is what I want,' and it's going to be a Burger King-type situation, and the problem is that there's a lot of poorly trained practitioners out there who've frankly gone into cosmetic surgery for the money and they are going to want to make that sale," said Killeen. "They are the most likely people to be unethical because frankly, they are unethical to baseline practicing medicine and they're not properly trained."
Killeen cautioned that surgeons must be "honest with what you can do." She noted, "You're not selling a perfume to someone, you're altering their body in a major surgical procedure."
"Transparent communication is key," said Savetksy. "Surgeons should convey the limits of simulations, highlighting their role as illustrative rather than definitive tools. Simulations need to maintain a sense of realism, offering patients an accurate grasp of potential outcomes to facilitate an informed consent process."
What lies ahead?
Killeen expressed optimism regarding the future benefits of imaging, especially when it comes to strengthening the rapport between doctors and patients.
"I think all of these things just make my communication and relationship with the patients stronger," said Killeen.
Savetsky is optimistic about the "rapid advancement" in the field.
"Enhanced realism, dynamic visualizations, AI integration and VR/AR experiences are likely to become key features," said Savetsky.
Advancements in imaging technology offer a potent blend of reality and aspiration in a world often marred by unrealistic expectations and the quest for perfection. Technology's impact on patient education, satisfaction and ethical medical practice will undeniably expand as it evolves, leading to a more informed and satisfying experience for both surgeons and patients.
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.