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Mayo Clin Proc. 2002 Apr;77(4):334-8.

Barriers to osteoporosis identification and treatment among primary care physicians and orthopedic surgeons.

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  • 1Osteoporosis Service, HealthEast Clinics, Woodbury, Minn 55125, USA. msciao@attbi.com



To understand better the barriers among orthopedic surgeons and primary care physicians in identifying and treating possible osteoporosis in patients hospitalized with a fragility fracture sustained spontaneously or from a fall no greater than standing height.


A 1-page, 7-question survey was sent to 35 admitting orthopedic surgeons and 75 primary care physicians at a midwestern managed care organization in March 2001. Returned surveys were collected until 30 days had passed since the mailing. Primary care physicians were board-certified family practitioners and internal medicine physicians. All orthopedists were admitting surgeons in the hospital system. Responders were anonymous, and posted surveys were returned to the Orthopaedic Collaborative Practice office. The surveys were color-coded to separate responses from orthopedic surgeons and primary care physicians.


Thirty-one surveys were returned: 23 (31%) from primary care physicians and 8 (23%) from orthopedic surgeons. Survey respondents agreed that the responsibility for postfracture attention to nutritional needs, including calcium and vitamin D, rested with the primary care provider. When asked about barriers to recommending bone mineral density testing with dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, 9 primary care physicians (39%) thought this type of testing was unnecessary for treatment, and 4 primary care physicians (17%) thought a barrier was caused by patient frailty. Primary care physicians indicated that potential adverse effects of medication (n=14 [61%]) and cost of therapy (n=13 [57%]) were the main factors limiting treatment. When asked to identify the single most important barrier in treatment, 14 physicians (61%) indicated cost was the greatest deterrent. Twenty-one primary care physicians (91%) reported they would be more likely to treat a patient with osteoporosis if a safe medication with proven fracture risk reduction were available. Primary care physicians indicated they were more likely to treat independently living adults (n=12 [52%]) and women compared with men (n=15 [65%]). All orthopedic surgeons (n=8) were willing for all patients to be evaluated in consultation with a nurse practitioner. Primary care respondents were less apt to agree with a nurse practitioner referral (n=5 [22%]). Both primary care physicians (n=16 [70%]) and orthopedic surgeons (n=4 [50%]) agreed that there is a need for increased primary care education about managing osteoporosis in patients hospitalized with low-impact fracture.


Orthopedic surgeons were consistent in their opinion that postfracture attention to osteoporosis should rest with the primary care physician. Primary care physicians agree but report that cost and possible adverse effects of medication are major barriers to this care. Despite therapies for high-risk postfracture patients showing relative safety and proven efficacy in reducing future fractures, deterrents to this care are focused on cost and potential adverse effects. Further education is needed to promote a standard of care for the postfracture patient that is directed toward the prevention of a subsequent fracture.

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