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Study identifies high rate of cellulitis misdiagnosis


An emergency room physician in an Oregon hospital might decide that a person experiencing fever, chills, swollen glands and a painful rash has cellulitis, which could be an error. Researchers who conducted a 30-month study of 259 inpatients at one hospital concluded that approximately one-third of them received a misdiagnosis of that disease.

A cellulitis diagnosis could lead to the prescription of antibiotics and even hospitalization. According to the researchers, 85 percent of the cases reviewed for the study should not have resulted in hospital admission. As for the antibiotic treatments, 92 percent of the patients should not have been given the drugs.

Startling costs of cellulitis misdiagnosis emerged when the researchers projected their findings onto a national scale. These improperly diagnosed skin conditions could be causing roughly 130,000 unnecessary hospital admissions annually. These admissions could translate into approximately $515 million in medical bills for inappropriate treatments. Because of the risk of infections associated with hospital stays, the researchers said thousands of these people could be contracting infections with the potential to cause death. One problem is that a similar condition, pseudocellulitis, has symptoms that closely resemble those of cellulitis. This can lead to a misdiagnosis.

A misdiagnosis of a disease can cause great harm to a patient. As the researchers in this study found, patients are often prescribed antibiotics unnecessarily, which could result in resistance. Perhaps more important, the disease that they actually have goes untreated, which could cause a worsened condition. People who have been harmed in this manner may want to meet with a medical malpractice attorney to see if they have a cause of action against the health care practitioner or facility.