The assessment of the human body, whether for aesthetic or reconstructive purposes, is an inherently visual endeavor. Ideally, reproducible, prompt, and cost-effective systems of visual evaluation would exist that can provide validated assessments of the aesthetic endpoints of treatment. One method to accomplish a standardization of the appreciation of visual endpoints is the use of visual scales. The goal of this systematic review is to summarize and evaluate the use of validated visual scales within aesthetic medicine, dermatology, and plastic and reconstructive surgery.
A literature search was performed with a defined search strategy and extensive manual screening process. The Medical Outcomes Trust guidelines for visual scales in medicine were used, with special attention paid to each study’s validation metrics. The review process identified 44 publications with validation data of sufficient quality from an initial survey of 27,745 articles. All rating scales based on imaging other than standardized clinical photographs were excluded.
The review demonstrates that validated visual assessment in plastic surgery is incomplete. Within specific subfields of aesthetic medicine and dermatology, many of the (n = 20) facial aging scales were well-validated and demonstrated high reliability. Publications (n = 8) focused on the evaluation of facial clefts demonstrated heterogeneity in the methods of validation and in overall reliability. Within the areas of breast surgery (n = 9), body contouring (n = 2), and scarring (n = 5), the scales were variable in the methods used and the validation procedures were diverse. Scales using a visual guide tended to have better interrater (kappa = 0.75) and intrarater reliability (kappa = 0.78), regardless of the specific area of interest.
The fields of aesthetic medicine, and aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgery require assessment of visual states over time and between many observers. For these reasons, the development of validated and reliable methods of visual assessment are critical. Until recently, the use of these tools has been limited by their time-consuming nature and cost.