Guidelines vs Actual Management of Skin and Soft Tissue Infections in the Emergency Department

Open Forum Infect Dis. 2018 Jan 12;5(1):ofx188. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofx188. eCollection 2018 Jan.


Background: Infections of skin and soft tissue (SSTI) commonly cause visits to hospital emergency departments (EDs). The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has published guidelines for the management of SSTI, but it is unclear how closely these guidelines are followed in practice.

Methods: We reviewed records of patients seen in the ED at a large tertiary care hospital to determine guidelines adherence in 4 important areas: the decision to hospitalize, choice of antibiotics, incision and drainage (I&D) of abscesses, and submission of specimens for culture.

Results: The decision to hospitalize did not comply with guidelines in 19.6% of cases. Nonrecommended antibiotics were begun in the ED in 71% of patients with nonpurulent infections and 68.4% of patients with purulent infections. Abscesses of mild severity were almost always treated with antibiotics, and I&D was often not done (both against recommendations). Blood cultures were done (against recommendations) in 29% of patients with mild-severity cellulitis. Abscess drainage was almost always sent for culture (recommendations neither favor nor oppose). Overall, treatment fully complied with guidelines in 20.1% of cases.

Conclusions: Our results show a striking lack of concordance with IDSA guidelines in the ED management of SSTI. Social factors may account for discordant decisions regarding site of care. Use of trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX) in cellulitis was the most common source of discordance; this practice is supported by some medical literature. Excess antibiotics were often used in cellulitis and after I&D of simple abscesses, opposing antibiotic stewardship. Ongoing education of ED doctors and continued review of published guidelines are needed.

Keywords: abscess; antibiotic stewardship; cellulitis; skin and soft tissue infection.