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Misdiagnosis of cellulitis is common and preventable

Cellulitis is a potentially serious condition that develops when the skin becomes infected by bacteria, but a study suggests that it may not be as common as doctors believe. Patients in New Jersey and around the country whom are diagnosed with cellulitis are often prescribed powerful antibiotics to fight the underlying infection, but the use of these drugs was curtailed for 136 of the 165 patients studied by dermatologists at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The dermatologists also recommended that half of the patients they examined be sent home. These patients had all received a preliminary diagnosis of cellulitis and had been scheduled for admission, but the specialists determined that about a third of them were actually suffering from less serious conditions known as pseudocellulitis. When doctors made follow-up calls to the patients who had been discharged, none of them reported that their symptoms had worsened.

This kind of misdiagnosis is common because pseudocellulitis and cellulitis have similar symptoms and doctors have no reliable diagnostic tools available. According to the study, which was published in JAMA Dermatology, the problem costs hospitals up to $210 million each year and results in patients spending as many as 256,000 days in hospital unnecessarily. Even more alarming was the conclusion that the problem exposes between 34,000 and 91,000 patients to antibiotics every year to treat a condition that they are not actually suffering from.

The accepted standards of medical care require doctors to perform relevant tests before making a diagnosis and consult specialists when the results of these tests are ambiguous, and they may face civil lawsuits when they fail to meet this duty of care. When pursuing this type of litigation, personal injury attorneys with medical malpractice experience may cite the kind of research performed at Brigham and Women's Hospital when doctors claim that the mistakes they allegedly made are extremely rare.

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