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Cellulitis: what it is, and how to avoid its misdiagnosis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection affecting the skin and tissue; it often develops on the face, neck, and lower leg. Its symptoms, which include red, swollen skin that's warm to the touch, are common to other conditions and are especially similar to pseudocellulitis. This frequently leads to misdiagnoses of cellulitis. Those in Kentucky who have suffered from this condition should know about a new study that's aiming for more accurate diagnoses.

The study, published in JAMA Dermatology, was conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital. After performing a dermatology consultation with 165 patients who were about to be admitted to the emergency department observation unit for presumptive cellulitis, they found that one third had pseudocellulitis. In 82 percent of these patients, dermatologists recommended that their current antibiotics be discontinued; none of the patients grew worse for it.

Researchers believe that an early dermatology consultation can help reduce the number of misdiagnoses. It could also prevent between 97,000 and 256,000 days' worth of unnecessary hospitalization and anywhere from 34,000 to 91,000 cases of unnecessary antibiotic use.

The only issue, then, is the scalability of the researchers' plan to provide early consultations. Brigham and Women's Hospital has taken steps to set up cellulitis patients earlier on with dermatologists. Nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities may have trouble providing 24/7 access to dermatologists, though.

If a dermatologist fails to diagnose the cellulitis because he or she failed to live up to an objective standard of care, the victim may file a medical malpractice claim. A lawyer may evaluate the claim and establish the fact that there was a doctor-patient relationship and that the patient did all that the doctor instructed. The lawyer may then request an inquiry with the local medical board before proceeding to negotiations. As a last resort, the lawyer might decide to litigate.

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