Digital Imaging or Imagining?

Paul K. Holden, MD
Article by
Phoenix Facial Plastic Surgeon

Advances in technology have certainly improved our lives and generated all kinds of new ways to deliver information. Many of us now read our news, get directions, listen to music and even learn about Scottsdale cosmetic surgery over the Internet. Image technology has generated surreal movies or photos where virtually an entire new world or effect can be created.

In the realm of cosmetic surgery, technology has also made its way into many surgeon offices. Computers have greatly improved laser technology, have streamlined our medical records and allow a surgeon to create images to represent the results a patient might expect - digital imaging.

I was speaking to a new patient recently and she said she was told that computer imaging is “fake” and isn’t realistic. If you have spent any time reviewing this site, then you know that I use computer imaging for almost all of my cosmetic surgery consultations. But, my very intelligently skeptical patient brings up a good point: Since computer photo image manipulation is being used, isn’t it by definition fake?

That depends on how the images are created and used. Firstly, imaging must be done making only the maneuvers that the surgeon can reasonably expect to execute. This means that imaging should be performed or at least reviewed by the surgeon before it is presented to a patient. Only a surgeon’s honest representation of what is reasonable should be shown to patients. Secondly, the true purpose of imaging should be to demonstrate to the patient that the surgeon has an understanding of their desired improvements as well as the limitations of surgery.

Just like anything else, computer imaging software is a tool that can be used properly or can be abused. Anyone who has worked with these types of programs knows that a patient’s anatomy can be changed in ways that are not only unrealistic, but impossible. Unfortunately, if imaging is done in this way to sell surgery, the surgeon will end up with a lot of dissatisfied patients and will get a reputation for this behavior.

Probably the most valuable aspect of cosmetic surgery imaging is that it can stimulate discussion about the desires of a patient with the surgeon such that both sides can understand and agree on the approach and the expectations for a result. Though the images that spark the discussion may be alterations of a photograph, the benefits of having a common goal and mutual understanding before surgery are definitely not “fake” and make a huge impact in reaching those very realistic goals.