Seeing a previous patient in person is something I recommend frequently in my consultations. I am fortunate: Many of my patients have volunteered to speak with and meet prospective patients. Besides giving a realistic view of what was achieved, the direct contact from someone who has undergone the procedure in question is incredibly valuable. There are computer programs that do a wonderful job of morphing the preoperative photo and providing a theoretical postoperative result. Of course, a computer can do many things to a two-dimensional image that I can’t achieve with a three-dimensional patient, so I've shied away from a heavy reliance on such tools.
But that may be changing. My team at New York-Presbyterian Hospital has increasing experience using a new generation of 3-D cameras and software for research purposes. These tools allow us to accurately document the volume changes after facial and breast surgery. The net effect is that we can take the image generated and convert it into data that can be analyzed objectively, without the inherent bias that comes from variables like changes in lighting and patient movements.
Eventually, with a large enough database of documented pre- and postoperative results, we will be able to translate these outcomes to prospective patients. We'll be able to produce better representations of what can be achieved by the procedure in question.