Many patients with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) return to emergency departments – not to dermatology clinics – for their ongoing care, according to a study of a large national administrative data set.
“Patients with HS presenting to the ED for their disease exhibited high rates of ED return with low rates of dermatology follow-up after an initial ED visit,” lead study author Cynthia X. Wang, MD, MPHS, and colleagues in the division of dermatology and the Institute for Informatics, Washington University in St. Louis, wrote in JAMA Dermatology.
Patients who received opioid prescriptions and patients on Medicaid were more likely to return to the ED, they noted.
HS, a debilitating skin disease involving chronic follicular inflammation, frequently affects the axilla, anogenital, and inframammary areas, with painful nodules, abscesses, and sinus tracts that can form scars, the authors wrote. HS is linked with comorbidities including inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, substance use, and psychiatric conditions, and is often misdiagnosed for an estimated 7-10 years.
In the retrospective cohort study, Wang and colleagues collected data from nationwide commercial and Medicaid databases. They included patients aged 18 64 years with two or more claims for HS and with at least one ED visit not resulting in admission for HS or a defined proxy (such as a related diagnosis of folliculitis, in a location typical for HS) between 2010 and 2019.
The median age of the 20,269 patients in the study was 32 years; most (82.9%) were female, and nearly 37% had commercial insurance and 63.2% had Medicaid. About half the patients on Medicaid were Black and 36.2% were White (race and ethnicity data were not available for commercially insured patients). In both insurance groups, the rates of comorbidities were high, including 22.5% with obesity and 11.9% with diabetes.
The researchers found that, at the index ED visit, 48.0% of patients had incision and drainage performed (51% among those with commercial insurance vs. 46.3% of those with Medicaid; P < .001); 72.6% of patients filled an oral antibiotic prescription within 7 days, with similar percentages in both insurance groups; and 48.9% filled an oral opioid medication prescription within 7 days (46.5% for commercial insurance vs. 50.3% for Medicaid; P < .001).
Regarding follow-up care, the investigators found that 17.2% of patients had at least one return ED visit for HS or proxy within 30 days (15.7% for commercial vs. 18.1% for Medicaid; P < .001), while 2.4% had a dermatology visit (5.3% for commercial vs. 0.7% for Medicaid; P < .001). In addition, 34% of patients had at least one return ED visit for HS or proxy within 180 days (27.2% for commercial insurance vs. 38% for Medicaid; P < .001), while 6.8% had a dermatology visit (14.1% for commercial vs. 2.5% for Medicaid; P < .001).
Patients with an opioid prescribed within 7 days of the ED visit were more likely to return to the ED, within 30 days (odds ratio, 1.67; 95% confidence interval, 1.54-1.80; P < .001), and within 180 days (OR, 1.48; 95% CI, 1.39-1.58; P < .001). But they were less likely to have dermatology follow-up within 30 days (OR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.64-0.95; P = .01) and within 180 days (OR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.71-0.91; P < .001).
Medicaid patients were more likely to return to the ED within 30 days (OR, 1.12; 95% CI, 1.03-1.22; P = .009) and within 180 days (OR, 1.48; 95% CI, 1.38-1.58; P < .001). But they were less likely to receive outpatient dermatology follow-up care within 30 days (OR, 0.12; 95% CI, 0.09-0.15; P < .001) and within 180 days (OR, 0.16; 95% CI, 0.14-0.18; P < .001).
“This study highlights potential areas of action to improve care for patients with HS,” the authors concluded, including cross-specialty education and interventions, and focus on patients most likely to return to the ED for care.
Findings Are Not Surprising
Christopher Sayed, MD, professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in an interview that the study results are expected. “Many patients have trouble establishing care with a dermatologist familiar with HS, so they seek more fragmented care at urgent cares and EDs,” he said.
Dr Christopher Sayed
“Some dermatologists are not familiar with HS or don’t accept insurance such as Medicaid,” Sayed added. “Many emergency room providers may not recognize that medical therapy for HS has evolved in a way that makes referral to a dermatologist more essential than ever. They may tell patients there is nothing else to do but return to the ED for the next flare. “Emergency medicine and dermatology training programs need to educate providers about appropriate long-term HS management.”
In an interview, Robert Glatter, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y., said that the study describes a reality he and his colleagues know too well.
“The study gives a true snapshot of the disarray and inequality that exists for patients disproportionately affected by HS. Those who are African American and low income suffer from lack of HS primary dermatologic care and follow-up at much higher rates than do other demographic groups,” he said.
Doctors would like to see the current situation change, Glatter noted. “It’s frustrating for emergency physicians and for dermatologists, who know that optimal follow-up care for this chronic and disabling disease should be with a dermatologist (and other surgical specialists if necessary).
“It’s a broken system. Patients can’t get appointments in nonacademic private settings because the bulk of dermatologists will not accept Medicaid. And many academic practices will not see these patients, either,” he commented. “We end up becoming a safety net of care.”
Replace the Broken System With an Integrated Process
A solution to address the problem would be to set up follow-up dermatology appointments when patients arrive in EDs during and after normal business hours, Glatter suggested. “Developing a coordinated, structured, streamlined process requires buy-in from all stakeholders, including private dermatologists, academic dermatology clinics, and the government.”
Dr Robert Glatter
Having the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services study interventions for high utilizers of EDs for HS would also help with “the development of economic and logistical changes, including provider reimbursement and allocation of funds to address this ongoing disparity in care,” he added.
Ideally, larger health care systems could collaborate with academic and nonacademic dermatologists to design a referral network that cares for all uninsured or underinsured patients, he said. “Balancing patient care and improved outcomes – while working on a framework for reimbursement – would be in everyone’s best interest.”
The study was partially funded by a grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. One author reported financial involvements with multiple pharmaceutical companies. Wang, the remaining coauthors, as well as Sayed and Glatter reported no conflicts of interest with the study. Glatter is an editor and columnist at Medscape.
This story originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
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