Iatrogenic burns: How do we prevent them?

Dr Henry Li1

1Barwon Health, Geelong, Australia



Iatrogenic burns are entirely preventable complications, yet have the ability to cause significant patient morbidity and even mortality. Events are rare and almost certainly under-reported, however with the advent of new medical and surgical technologies and an aging population placing more demand on healthcare systems, increased awareness and preventative measures are more important than ever.


A search of the literature was performed on PubMed with the keywords ‘iatrogenic’ and ‘burns’. Relevant articles were scanned and references of these articles were also scanned. The majority of the literature comprised of case reports and series. A review of the author’s own institution’s policies and staff education and training was conducted.


Overall iatrogenic burns are rare, frequently under-reported and potentially severe. Iatrogenic burns can be thermal, chemical and radiation related and include electrocautery, flames, warming devices, lights, lasers, heated probes and retractors, antiseptic solutions, drug extravasation and medical imaging devices. Common themes and risk factors included the extremes of age as well as understaffed and overworked healthcare providers. In the author’s current institution awareness surrounding electrocautery burns in the theatre setting was the greatest, while awareness and preventative measures regarding the other, less common causes of iatrogenic burns, especially in the ward setting, was limited.


Though surgical management is often required in iatrogenic burns, education and prevention is key. Regular staff education and training is recommended.


  1. Zhang Y, Zeng Y, Xin G, et al. Iatrogenic burn: a retrospective study of 5 years. J Wound Burn Care Res. 2009; 30:1051
  2. Demir E, O’Dey DM, Pallua N. Accidental burns during surgery. J Wound Burn Care Res. 2006;27:895-900


Henry Li is an unaccredited plastic surgery registrar at Barwon Health

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