Hospital Consult

Investing in the Future of Inpatient Dermatology: The Evolution and Impact of Specialized Dermatologic Consultation in Hospitalized Patients

In partnership with the Society for Dermatology Hospitalists

Author and Disclosure Information

Inpatient dermatology has transitioned from units that admitted and cared for patients with chronic dermatoses to consultative services that provide a wide breadth of care, leading to a paradigm shift in the role and impact of dermatologists in the inpatient setting. Consultative dermatology provides a distinct and essential service in the care of hospitalized patients, leading to improved care quality along with reductions in inappropriate health care spending.

Practice Points

  • Dermatology inpatient consultation enhances quality of care and reduces health care costs.
  • Dermatology input in the inpatient setting leads to a diagnosis change in up to 70% of consultations.
  • The majority of dermatologic misdiagnoses by nondermatologists involves common dermatoses such as cellulitis, stasis dermatitis, and hypersensitivity reactions.



The practice of inpatient dermatology has a rich history rooted in specialized hospital wards that housed patients with chronic dermatoses. Because systemic agents were limited, the care of these patients required skilled nursing and a distinctive knowledge of the application of numerous topical agents, including washes, baths, powders, lotions, and pastes1; however, with the evolving nature of health care in the last half a century, such dermatologic inpatient units are now rare, with only 2 units remaining in the United States, specifically at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and at the University of Miami.2

Although the shift away from a primary dermatologic admitting service is likely multifactorial, what is more sobering is that the majority of inpatients with dermatologic disorders are cared for by nondermatologists.2 Although the dynamics for such a diminished presence are due to various personal and professional concerns, the essential outcome for patients hospitalized with a cutaneous concern—whether directly related to their hospitalization or iatrogenic in nature—is the potential for suboptimal care.3

Fortunately, the practice of inpatient dermatology currently is undergoing a renaissance. With this renewed interest in hospital-based dermatology, there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates how the dermatology hospitalist has become a vital member of the inpatient team, adding value to the care of patients across all specialties.

To explore the impact of consultative dermatology services, there has been a push by members of the Society for Dermatology Hospitalists to elucidate the contributions of dermatologists in the inpatient setting, which has been accomplished primarily by defining and characterizing the types of patients that dermatology hospitalists care for and, more recently, by demonstrating the improved outcomes that result from expert consultation.

Breadth of Inpatient Dermatologic Consultations

With the adaptation of dermatology consultation services, the scope of practice has shifted from the skilled management of chronic dermatoses to one with an emphasis on the identification of various acute dermatologic diseases. Although the extent of such acute disease states in the inpatient setting is vast, it is interesting to note that the majority of consultations are for common conditions, namely cutaneous infections, venous stasis dermatitis, contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, and cutaneous drug eruptions (Table).4,5

Moreover, for the services that obtain dermatologic consultation, the majority of requests originate from internal medicine and hematology/oncology.4,5 Although internal medicine often is the largest-represented specialty in the hospital and provides a proportional amount of dermatology consultations, hematology/oncology patients represent a distinct cohort who are prone to unique mucocutaneous dermatoses related to underlying malignancies, immunosuppression, and cancer-specific therapies (eg, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, stem cell transplantation). Within this subset of patients, cutaneous infections and drug eruptions constitute the majority of cases, while graft-versus-host disease and neutrophilic dermatoses account for a smaller percentage of dermatologic disease in this population. Given the complex and uncommon nature of these dermatoses, timely intervention by a dermatologist can have a considerable impact on morbidity and mortality associated with such disease states.6,7

Among pediatric patients, dermatology consultation patterns mimic those seen among adult patients, with common conditions such as atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis representing the majority of consultations.8-11 Vascular lesions further represent a unique source of consultation among pediatric patients. Although they often are considered an outpatient concern, one group found that the majority of inpatient consultations for vascular lesions led to early identification of a syndromic association and/or complication (eg, ulceration).10 Identifying these cases in the hospital provides early opportunities for intervention and multidisciplinary care.


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October 2018
MDedge Dermatology