From the American Society of Plastic Surgery
Ariel Frankeny | Freelance Writer | Monday, November 20, 2023
When looking at the future of the world at large, there is no doubt that there is one advancement that is heavy on the minds of men and women everywhere – artificial intelligence (AI). While it may feel like something from an old-school science fiction movie, AI is quickly becoming more common and more prevalent within a variety of industries. There is no doubt that AI will continue to make an impact and expand its reach within the coming years with continual advancements in the specialty of plastic surgery and the introduction of new methods of artificial learning.
Yet, while many of us may think that the inclusion of AI within plastic surgery and related fields is something many years out on the horizon, this amazing technological advancement is already at play in the specialty. It's not yet an advanced form that is handling actual surgeries on its own, but rather the current version of AI is more supportive and works to complement the skill set of plastic surgeons.
To gather more insight on this new and emerging topic of AI, we reached out to an expert in the field, Roy Kim, MD, for his insider analysis and thoughts on how artificial intelligence will continue to shape the future of plastic and cosmetic surgery.
The true beauty of artificial intelligence
As we previously mentioned, artificial intelligence has already made a splash within the cosmetic and plastic surgery fields, although not quite in the way that we'd expect. Thus far, we're seeing a limited implementation of AI with simple, practical applications that serve to make the work of surgeons and patients alike easier. This can be anything from using an AI-powered chatbot to answer questions online or using AI-generated suggestions to create more appealing social media captions and blogs.
"In terms of practical, clinical things, we're not seeing much implementation," said Kim. "We're just starting off with it. For example, I use it for some marketing and patient education. For others, they use it but don't do a good job of hiding it, so they have ridiculous AI-generated captions that were obviously written by an AI bot."
It's important for surgeons to use AI as a supplementary tool rather than as a replacement for their expert voice in patient education, as they truly have the specific knowledge base to get into the nitty-gritty details of what's involved in plastic surgery procedures.
"The AI can get it completely wrong," said Kim. "It doesn't have the background or the underlying context that a surgeon has."
The future of artificial intelligence
Looking forward to the future of AI within the realm of cosmetic surgery, there are so many exciting innovations on the horizon. From opportunities to better educate peers to the ability to customize procedures and routines to the exact needs of the patient, there are many amazing advancements coming within this field.
One such advancement is being worked on by the AI tech company Proximi.
"They have a camera mounted on glasses that records what a surgeon is doing and saves it," said Kim. "If you're operating and stuck, another surgeon can see the procedure and suggest what you should do in the operation. If you're an expert surgeon, you can perform the surgery and save the video. They have the world's largest grouping of surgical videos – the AI can analyze the videos and suggest what you should do next in an operation."
Another advancement involves the world of beauty lasers. Many companies that produce lasers involved in cosmetic procedures are investing in AI to create more personalized procedures for patients.
"They are able to templatize and give you parameters for how to do a procedure based on what the patient wants," said Kim. "They'll soon be able to take a picture of the patient's skin and take their medical history into consideration in order to accomplish what they want."
One application of AI that's continuing to advance at the forefront of the cosmetic surgery industry is the ability to predict risk factors for certain conditions, including cancer.
"You can train AI to identify risk factors. If it looks at one million images, it will be much more efficient than an actual radiologist," said Kim. "In ten years, it may even be more accurate than a radiologist. Even if we don't like to admit it, the AI is learning over time and training constantly and will eventually become more statistically correct than humans."
This application is already in play in the realm of predicting skin cancer, with AI designed to detect signs and symptoms through photos.
"While it's not as accurate as a human dermatologist, it is a really great application for people who are hundreds of miles away from care centers or in third-world countries," said Kim.
Another innovation on the horizon is the introduction of AI-powered robotics. While this is an advancement that is currently far off in the future, Kim is very excited about the potential.
"For plastic surgery, we're not quite there just yet, but I can definitely see AI running a robot in the future," said Kim. "I think that while we can create a robot that's delicate enough to handle injections or simple procedures today, it doesn't have the knowledge base to perform these actions properly yet."
Final thoughts on the future of artificial intelligence
There is no doubt that AI will continue to play a key role in the field of cosmetic surgery in the coming years. Yet, it's important to step back and take this technology's suggestions and assessments with skepticism.
"There are two things that are hardcore principles in plastic surgery – patient safety and anatomy," said Kim. "The anatomy is always the same, but every patient is different. Beauty is individual and every person is different but cosmetic trends tend to change."
In other words, even an objective technology like AI can make mistakes in suggesting the best course of action for a patient. Since it works to analyze existing information that is readily available, it can skew towards trends and miss out on the factor of individuality that plays an integral part in elective plastic surgery.