Effect of Dermatology Consultation on Outcomes for Patients With Presumed Cellulitis: A Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Dermatol. 2018 May 1;154(5):529-536. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.6196.


Importance: Each year, cellulitis leads to 650 000 hospital admissions and is estimated to cost $3.7 billion in the United States. Previous literature has demonstrated a high misdiagnosis rate for cellulitis, which results in unnecessary antibiotic use and health care cost.

Objective: To determine whether dermatologic consultation decreases duration of hospital stay or intravenous antibiotic treatment duration in patients with cellulitis.

Design, setting, and participants: This randomized clinical trial was conducted in a large urban tertiary care hospital between October 2012 and January 2017, with 1-month follow-up duration. Patients were randomized to the control group, which received the standard of care (ie, treatment by primary medicine team), or the intervention group, which received dermatology consultation. Medical chart review of demographic information and hospital courses was performed. Adult patients hospitalized with presumed diagnosis of cellulitis were eligible. A total of 1300 patients were screened, 1125 were excluded, and 175 were included. Statistical analysis was employed to identify significant outcome differences between the 2 groups.

Interventions: Dermatology consultation within 24 hours of hospitalization.

Main outcomes and measures: Length of hospital stay and duration of intravenous antibiotic treatment.

Results: Of 175 participants, 70 (40%) were women and 105 (60%) were men. The mean age was 58.8 years. Length of hospital stay was not statistically different between the 2 groups. The duration of intravenous antibiotic treatment (<4 days: 86.4% vs 72.5%; absolute difference, 13.9%; 95% CI, 1.9%-25.9%; P = .04) and duration of total antibiotic treatment was significantly lower in patients who had early dermatology consultation (<10 days: 50.6% vs 32.5%; absolute difference, 18.1%; 95% CI, 3.7%-32.5%; P = .01). Clinical improvement at 2 weeks was significantly higher for those in the intervention group (79 [89.3%] vs 59 [68.3%]; absolute difference, 21.0%; 95% CI, 9.3%-32.7%; P < .001). There was no significant difference in 1-month readmission rate between the groups (4 [4.5%] vs 6 [6.9%]; absolute difference, -2.4%; 95% CI, -9.3% to 4.5%; P = .54). In the intervention group, the rate of cellulitis misdiagnosis was 30.7% (27 of 88 participants). Among the entire cohort, 101 (57.7%) patients were treated with courses of antibiotics longer than what is recommended by guidelines.

Conclusions and relevance: Early dermatologic consultation can improve outcomes in patients with suspected cellulitis by identifying alternate diagnoses, treating modifiable risk factors, and decreasing length of antibiotic treatment.

Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT01706913.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cellulitis / diagnosis*
  • Cellulitis / therapy*
  • Dermatology*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Referral and Consultation*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01706913