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Changes in Subjective vs Objective Burn Scar Assessment Over Time: Does the Patient Agree With What We Think?

Martin, Daniel BSc, MD; Umraw, Nisha OT, OT(R); Gomez, Manuel MD, MSc; Cartotto, Robert MD, FRCS(C)

doi: 10.1097/01.BCR.0000075842.55039.03
Features: Burn Rehabilitation Forum

It is not known whether objective measurements of burn scar quality reflect, or even bear any relationship to, the patient’s opinion of their scar. The purpose of this study was to determine whether any correlation exists between the rehabilitation therapist’s rating of the scar using the Vancouver Scar Scale (VSS) and the patient’s subjective opinion of their scar. A total of 37 scars in 20 adult patients (mean age, 34 ± 13 years; 30% female; mean %TBSA burn, 16 ± 11%) were evaluated at 3.1 ± 1.9 months after injury (early assessment). Patients were asked to rate their own scar (question 1) and to rate how they perceive other people view the scar (question 2). A visual analog scale (VAS) was used to score the answers to both questions. A burn occupational therapist who was blinded to the VAS scores performed a VSS rating of the scar. These evaluations were repeated 1.5 years after injury (late assessment). At the early assessment, there was no correlation between the VSS score and VAS scores for question 1 (r = .291) or question 2 (r = .371). At the late assessment, there was significant improvement in the VSS score and the VAS score for question 2. Also, a significant correlation developed between the VSS score and the VAS score for question 1 (r = .646, P = .003) but not between the VSS score and VAS score for question 2 (r = .099). The VSS measurement of the scar bears no relationship to the patient’s opinion of their scar early after a burn injury. As the scar improves over time, the patient’s opinion of their scar appears to improve and shows better correlation with the VSS rating. Conversely, the patient’s impression of what others think of the scar continues to bear no relationship to the VSS rating, suggesting that scar acceptance by the patient is incomplete despite objective improvement in the quality of the scar. Although the VSS was never intended to measure a patient’s opinion of their scar, these preliminary findings emphasize the necessity of including a patient-centered subjective component to routine scar monitoring and assessment.

From the Ross Tilley Burn Center, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Center, Toronto, Canada.

Address correspondence to Dr. R. Cartotto, Room D710, Ross Tilley Burn Center, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Center, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario Canada M4N 3M5.

©2003The American Burn Association