A growing number of cosmetic surgeons are using preoperative computer imaging during patient consultations. These systems can be especially useful for consultations prior to procedures like rhinoplasty or breast augmentation, when patients are eager to visualize the expected outcome.

One popular computer imaging system (the Vectra 3D) captures six patient photos simultaneously. The computer then creates a three dimensional image that can be rotated and viewed from multiple angles. The surgeon can even overlay a ghost image of the expected outcome over the first patient photo to visually compare the differences.

But can patients expect these systems to predict their results with great accuracy? According to a study published in the current issue of Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, their accuracy is moderately effective.

A study was performed to “quantitatively measure accuracy of preoperative computer imaging as a reflection of postoperative rhinoplasty results.” To carry out the study, the doctor enrolled 38 subjects who underwent rhinoplasty. Both surgeons and non-surgeons were asked to compare the post-operative rhinoplasty photos with the predictive results from the computer imaging system.

According to the panel of expert judges in this study, the predictive accuracy of the computer imaging system scored a moderate rating of 2.98 on a 5-point scale. Slightly higher scores were submitted by the participating patients and non-surgeon judges.

What does this mean for the future of computer imaging in cosmetic surgery? The accuracy of these systems could (and probably will) be improved. But predictive accuracy is not the only aspect that matters in a consultation. As the authors mention, viewing the images is a “useful exercise.” Just like your surgeon’s clinical before and after photos, PCI is a tool that facilitates in-depth discussion about aesthetics and shared goals for the procedure.