Estimating the health care costs associated with recurrent cellulitis managed in the outpatient setting

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Background:Recurrent cellulitis is diagnosed in 22% to 49% of all cellulitis cases, but little is known about the costs associated with these cases.Objective:To characterize patients with recurrent cellulitis in the outpatient setting and estimate the associated costs.Methods:A retrospective chart review was conducted for adult patients who presented to the outpatient facilities at our institution from January 1, 2007, to December 31, 2011, with recurrent cellulitis. Data provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were used.Results:A total of 157 patients were identified; 56% were male, with a mean age of 62.7 years. The mean number of episodes of cellulitis per patient was 3. Antibiotics were prescribed for all patients with a diagnosis of recurrent cellulitis, with 93% treated with oral antibiotics and 17.6% treated with intravenous antibiotics. A total of 1081 laboratory and 175 radiologic imaging tests were ordered. The minimum average cost per cellulitis episode was $586.91; the average cost per visit was $292.50.Limitations:Retrospective study; use of a single, large academic institution; and utilization of cost estimates that may not adequately reflect the variation of costs across closed-system sites or geographic regions. There was no accounting for the nonfinancial or opportunity costs associated with hospitalization, such as lost days of employment or child care and any long-term morbidities, among others.Conclusions:Recurrent cellulitis in the outpatient setting costs about $586.91 per episode. Although there is no criterion standard for diagnosis or treatment of cellulitis, our analysis demonstrates the need for more evidence-based management to achieve better outcomes and reduce the significant health care costs.

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