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Is Virtual Reality the Future of Consultations?

Is Virtual Reality the Future of Consultations?

In a world of ever-constant technological breakthroughs and discoveries, doors are opened to change and new opportunities across all fields and disciplines. When it comes to the medical industry and plastic surgery, technology is making a huge splash.

Beyond the more technical applications and improvements, consumer-centered technologies have arisen that help patients decide on procedures. Three dimensional imaging for breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, and even labiaplasty offers a virtual window into surgical results before ever entering the operating room. With extreme precision, three dimensional imaging has changed breast augmentation surgery for the better.

What’s next? Board certified plastic surgeons Dr. Dan Del Vecchio of Boston and Dr. John Diaz of Beverley Hills discuss the possibilities of virtual reality applications in plastic surgery, noting how it may or may not improve plastic surgery, or even change the entire process of surgeon selection and the consultation process.

Virtual Reality Technology is Ready

Virtual realty (VR) technology is already in play across numerous industries. Both Samsung and Facebook own respective VR headsets while production companies and video game studios dive headfirst into a new frontier of three dimensional media. While these industries expand the tech and the uses, other industries are dipping their own toes into the water to see what may come of it.

With 3D imaging already in heavy use within plastic surgery, virtual reality seems like the logical next step. “I think it’s inevitable. We’ve got 3D imaging for rhinoplasty and breast; virtual reality is just an extension of the technology,” shares Dr. Del Vecchio. “I don’t think there’s been a lot of precedent for problems with 3D imaging, so I don’t anticipate there being major problems with making false promises.”

Vectrad 3D implant sizing.

3D imaging has allowed curious patients a legitimate preview of what they might look like with breast implants. All options can be represented with extreme accuracy so that rather than holding an implant against their chest, they can actually see a naked representation of what their chest would look like. Needless to say, this has helped the process tremendously. “3D imaging has been incredibly valuable in my practice,” says Dr. Diaz. “It helps patients see what they can expect, and helps manage expectations as well.”

Diaz, too, feels that VR is a logical extension of 3D imaging – allowing the consultation to take place from a patient’s couch rather than in the consultation room looking at their surgeon’s monitors. “Virtual reality is just the next step,” he shares. “It might be helpful for someone who’s not sure, wants to see what it looks like on their body. Maybe they can do it from the comfort of their home or on their own time.”

Potential Changes in Surgeon Selection with Tech

Increases in technology and it’s accompanying infrastructure have allowed for normal life experiences and tasks to be decentralized, many with the option to do what previously involved an outing from the comfort of home. There’s no need to go to brick and mortar stores for purchases that will arrive at your door in 2 days from Amazon. Even grocery stores are getting into the delivery game, utilizing technology to offer customers their groceries without the shopping experiences.

Virtual reality.

Perhaps no industry has seen this paradigm shift like the book business, a situation Dr. Del Vecchio uses to describe the potential for decoupling patients from in-person consultation experiences in plastic surgery. “If you think about Borders Books and Barnes & Noble, book buying was a local phenomenon. You would walk to the bookstore, read the book, buy the book, go home. They’re gone. I don’t see [plastic surgery] going completely that way, but I see a subset of plastic surgery procedures and patients going virtual. In the sense that, they’ll say that, ‘I want breast augmentation. I’m going to Dallas to get it.'”

Here, Dr. Del Vecchio hints at a curious effect that might take place: a marked increase for patients to browse for surgeons worldwide rather than staying local. If virtual reality can reproduce a consultation setting, then the entire world’s surgical expertise is now on the table. “The consumption of plastic surgery, like books, part of it will become less of a local phenomenon,” continues Del Vecchio. “Who in my hometown does breast augmentation? Well, this person is 2 miles away, this person is 5 miles away. This my limit. With the virtual consult, the world is your limit.”

Medical tourism is already a common situation in plastic surgery, although normally patients under this umbrella are seeking out surgeons and experiences that are much less expensive than those in the US. The virtual reality proposition is something different; patients are choosing “the best,” or who they feel are the best, and because of the VR consultation, they can fly in wherever and be ready for surgery.

The Consultation is Critical – Technology or Not

One thing that’s always important is for patients to select an experienced surgeon and have a deep consultation prior to deciding on surgery. 3D imaging has certainly helped in this regard, and virtual reality stands to as well. While utilizing the technology, it’s critical to maintain the integrity of finding a solution with the patient. If technology can help, that’s great, but it should never hurt. “It’s important to be realistic,” cautions Del Vecchio. “[The technology is] like any tool; you can abuse it, or you can use it.”

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