News & Features

Video Doc Pioneer

Video Doc Mark A. Erlich, M.D., F.A.C.S.
800 Fifth Avenue at 61st Street
New York, N.Y. 10021

An encounter with a hairdresser and a NASA engineer lead to the development of computer software that allows cosmetic and plastic surgery patients to get a glimpse of what their enhanced features may look like after surgery.

It happened back in 1984 when New York City’s Mark Erlich, M.D., had been in practice about three years. He read about a NASA scientist who developed a software system for computers that would show women what various hairstyles would probably look like when finished. One particular hairdresser was using the system.

“That stuck in my mind and I could not help but wonder why such a system could not be developed for use in plastic surgery,” Dr. Erlich told News. “I called on the hairdresser and, later, the scientist and we went to work on the first such imaging system for plastic surgery in the U.S.” Video Doc

However, 1984 was the Stone Age, compared to today’s computers and software packages. The NASA engineer went to work on Dr. Erlich’s vision and, for $40,000, built a computer about the size of a large suitcase that used a patient’s existing picture to allow the computer operator to change various features, showing what changes plastic surgery would probably make.

“The storage part of that first computer was gigantic but would only hold ten before and after sets of previous patients,” Dr. Erlich says. “We built a hood to put over the computer for shade so we could take Polaroid pictures of the suggested changes.”

Patients loved the device and flocked into his office to take a gander at what, say, a smaller nose, enhanced breasts or cheek implants might look like after surgery. Since its inception, Dr. Erlich’s office has performed cosmetic imaging on about 20,000 patients.

“I think every employee of every T.V. station within 300 miles sat down at that computer and had their pictures done,” says Dr. Erlich who is the founder and director of Profiles & Contours, a plastic surgery center in New York City.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, with computer video imaging, any patient can avoid ending up with Michael or Janet Jackson’s highly reduced, narrow noses when what they were actually looking for was a very subtle change like Cher’s rhinoplasty or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reduced chin.

Since then, many different software packages have become available to plastic surgeons while computer imaging has become a standard part of many, if not most, pre-operative plastic surgery consultations.

Additionally, imaging software concepts have taken quantum leaps forward so that currently, one picture of a past patient on a computer screen “morphs” into the completed surgical enhancements. So instead of seeing one before and one after picture, the viewer watches as a nose is reduced in size over ten or so seconds or as breasts increase their size in about the same time. Video Doc

Moreover, would-be patients can experiment with a variety of changes and show, not tell, the surgeon exactly what enhancement they want.

So the days of resting the fate of your enhanced nose with marked up photos or clippings of a magazine model have gone the way of the horse and buggy.

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