Inpatient dermatology consultation aids diagnosis of cellulitis among hospitalized patients: A multi-institutional analysis

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015 Jul;73(1):70-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2014.11.012.


Background: Given its nonspecific physical examination findings, accurately distinguishing cellulitis from a cellulitis mimicker (pseudocellulitis) is challenging.

Objective: We sought to investigate the national incidence of cellulitis misdiagnosis among inpatients.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of inpatient dermatology consultations at Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center, University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, and University of California San Francisco Medical Center in 2008. All consults requested for the evaluation of cellulitis were included. The primary outcomes were determining the incidence of cellulitis misdiagnosis, evaluating the prevalence of associated risk factors, and identifying common pseudocellulitides.

Results: Of the 1430 inpatient dermatology consultations conducted in 2008, 74 (5.17%) were requested for the evaluation of cellulitis. In all, 55 (74.32%) patients evaluated for cellulitis were given a diagnosis of pseudocellulitis. There was no statistically significant difference in the rate of misdiagnosis across institutions (P = .12). Patient demographics and associated risk factor prevalence did not statistically vary in patients given a diagnosis of cellulitis versus those with pseudocellulitis (P > .05).

Limitations: This study was unable to evaluate all patients admitted with cellulitis and was conducted at tertiary care centers, which may affect the generalizability of the results.

Conclusions: Cellulitis is commonly misdiagnosed in the inpatient setting. Involving dermatologists may improve diagnostic accuracy and decrease unnecessary antibiotic use.

Keywords: antibiotics; cellulitis; contact dermatitis; internal medicine; medical dermatology; skin and soft-tissue infections; stasis dermatitis.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Cellulitis / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies