Illusio’s virtual mirror tool helps plastic surgeons communicate more clearly during consultations, avoiding patient disappointment post-augmentation mammoplasty.
By Steven Martinez
When Illusio CEO Ethan Winner was looking for the right sector to create a business using augmented reality (AR) technology, he found inspiration close to home.
His cousin had started a plastic surgery practice in Southern California, and his wife was looking to have a little work done after having their second child. The experience, however, left Winner and his wife feeling that the current methods of consultation were seriously lacking.
“That whole experience really made us realize, man, this is so antiquated and archaic the way these people are making decisions for their own body,” Winner says.
Winner describes the process as little more than looking at albums of before and after photos of other women. The experience left a gap between what his wife envisioned and the actual outcome of the surgery.
“She didn’t know what to expect, because she couldn’t see what she was going to look like,” Winner says. “There’s this black hole between what a patient expects and what a surgeon expects. Without a shared vision, it is absolutely impossible that the doctor and the patient have the same expectation.”
Visualize in Real Time
Winner had spent his career in corporate communications and public affairs. When he was introduced to AR technology and saw what it could do to help people visualize things in real time, he started searching for practical uses to build a business around. Inspired by his wife’s experience, he and his team decided to make a tool to help surgeons show patients what was realistically possible through breast augmentation.
After creating Illusio, the company demonstrated it at major plastic surgery shows. They took surveys of women interested in having surgery and those who already had, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
“99.5% of women are shocked by it and say, no question, they would want to see what they could look like in a consultation process,” Winner says. “They’ve never seen anything like it, and when they start seeing breasts change in shape and size in real time, just by moving your finger on an iPad screen, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, that’s insane.’”
Illusio calls its technology a virtual mirror. By mapping a patient’s body using a scanner, the application can overlay a realistic 3D model over the patient in real time. A plastic surgeon can then manipulate the model using 12 sliders that control aspects of a patient’s breasts such as size, volume, sag, cleavage, and nipples.
Reduce Confusion, Set Realistic Expectations
The process gives patients an idea of how how different implant sizes will look on their bodies. Winner likens the process to a conversation between the doctor and patient. Illusio is a tool designed to reduce confusion by allowing patients to express their expectations better and match them to the doctor’s.
Winner says that while other similar technologies might use complex algorithms and photogrammetry to predict an outcome based on patient scans, Illusio is less about spitting out a prediction and more about setting realistic expectations.
“We are not making predictions,” Winner says. “We are simply creating a better modality for communication so that a surgeon who always has an image in his or her head—and a pretty accurate one—can now control what the patient expects.”
A doctor still has to use skill and experience to ensure the patient sees a realistic outcome for their body. But Winner says doctors are rarely surprised with the result of their surgeries. If a patient is dissatisfied with the result, they usually had a different expectation than the doctor.
“It’s still up to the doctor to properly manage those expectations, but now they have a visual tool in which they can use to do so more successfully,” says Winner.
Illusio’s software runs on an iPad using the device’s camera to combine the 3D model with a real-time image. A separate 3D scanner made by Occipital attaches to the back of the iPad, which generates the 3D model. The whole package is provided by Illusio.
As part of the package, Illusio also provides virtual training for doctors to teach them how to do the 3D scans and use the software, though Winner says he could probably teach anyone how to use it in 15 minutes.
Illusio is still iterating its software and adding new features to make the tool more useful. Future updates will include a simplified scanning process and a feature that can automatically estimate breast volume, which Winner says is not necessarily easy to do.
Automatically Determine Breast Volume
Because the scanner creates an accurate 3D model, the software can automatically determine breast volume, potentially saving doctors time in the consultation process or even in the operating room.
The company wants to expand beyond breast augmentation to include mastectomy patients. For its future plans, it is also considering everything from liposuction to abdominoplasty, facial reconstruction, nose, eyes, hair restoration, and possibly even cosmetic dentistry.
While prospective patients may be onboard, some doctors may be hesitant to try it because the traditional methods still work.
To the hesitant doctors, Winner asks them to consider how much business they might be missing out on. While plastic surgeons might think they convert 80% or 90% of the patients coming in the door for a consultation, industry standards indicate that they only convert about 20%, says Winner.
“If you don’t want to grow your business at all, then maybe it’s not a fit, but if you want to grow it, I think it’s a great fit,” says Winner. “The truth is not every doctor thinks they need this, but every patient does. So shouldn’t we all be thinking about what those people coming in the door, paying the money want?”
Steven Martinez is associate editor of Plastic Surgery Practice.