Uses and abuses of digital imaging in plastic surgery.

Nouraei SA, Frame J, Nduka C. Int J Surg. 2005;3(4):254-7. Epub 2005 Nov 21.



Surgeons extensively rely on photographic communication for documenting surgical results, teaching and research, and obtaining informed consent from patients. With the advent of digital photography and widespread availability of sophisticated image manipulation software, the potential for committing digital fraud cannot be discounted.


Ten ‘before’ and ‘after’ plastic surgical photographs were selected, and a number of them were digitally enhanced using a standard desktop software by a non-expert in digital photography. A panel of 10 consultant plastic surgeons was asked to judge which, if any of the images had been digitally manipulated.


Expert assessment had a sensitivity of only 12% in identifying digitally manipulated images. Furthermore, there was poor inter-observer agreement with an Intraclass Correlation Coefficient of 0.39.


Digital fraud is easy to commit and difficult to detect. Furthermore, a number of inadvertent and simple image manipulation functions can also amount to misrepresentation. There may be scope for cooperation within editorial circles to set standards for the submission of digital photographs. Surgeons need also to be aware of the potential for misrepresentation of information through digital image manipulation and exercise caution in the communication of digital photographic information.