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Iatrogenic - What Is the Definition of Iatrogenic?

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Updated February 26, 2010

Definition:

When a patient acquires a new illness, or is injured by the services provided by a medical provider, then the result is considered to be "iatrogenic". Iatrogenic events may result during diagnosis or treatment, and they may be physical, mental or emotional problems.

The key to the definition is that a new medical problem has cropped up as a result of the actions of the medical provider. The patient would not have gotten sick or hurt had he or she not interfaced with that doctor or other practitioner.

"Iatrogenic" comes from the Greek language. "Iatros" means doctor or healer. "Gennan" means "as a result".

Iatrogenic injury is a form of medical error. These mistakes are never intended, of course, but they are no less harmful to the patient.

Examples:
  • One example of iatrogenesis would be when a patient becomes infected because a doctor or nurse didn't wash his/her hands after touching a previous patient.
  • A surgical mistake, such as nicking the patient with a surgical instrument, or removing the wrong kidney or replacing the wrong knee would also be considered iatrogenic.
  • Drug conflicts that are documented, but unknown to the prescriber are iatrogenic.
  • Even psychological therapies, if they result in further psychoses or neuroses for the patient, would be considered iatrogenic.

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