A new European survey reveals that bone specialists believe osteoporosis and fragility fractures are neglected and under prioritised by their healthcare systems, and action needs to be taken. 

The survey by UCB asked 401 bone specialists from 11 European countries about their experience of osteoporosis and fragility fracture management. Of those surveyed, 66% agreed that osteoporosis is a neglected condition and only 10% of specialists surveyed agreed that osteoporosis and fragility fractures are currently given a high priority by their local health authority. 

When asked, the majority (90%) agreed that the condition should be a public health priority and 91% agreed that effective management can improve outcomes and reduce costs. At present, in women over 45 years of age, osteoporosis accounts for more days spent in hospital than many other diseases, including diabetes and breast cancer.

In 2010, the cost of fragility fractures in the European Union was €37 billion, and based on demographic changes is predicted to double by 2050.

Osteoporosis patents being denied effective management

Dr Kassim Javaid, Consultant Rheumatologist, University of Oxford, said: “These results confirm what many of us already knew. Every year that goes by, more patients are potentially being denied effective management, leaving them vulnerable to life changing fractures. We need dedicated policy advisory groups to support national osteoporosis professionals and patient groups to implement effective approaches to bridge this prioritisation gap for policy makers, primary care and patients.

While the ultimate step is to prevent the first fracture, co-ordinated post-fracture care services like the Fracture Liaison Service (FLS) has started to close the care gap, successful FLS models need to be expanded internationally. Once these systems are in place, FLSs can evolve to identify high risk groups to prevent the first fracture, our ultimate goal.”

The survey results also suggest that patients are not well informed about osteoporosis and its impact. Only a third (33%) of specialists feel their patients understand the long term impact of osteoporosis and more than half (53%) say their patients believe there is a low, to no increased risk of subsequent fragility fractures after the first, despite evidence which shows that after experiencing the first fracture, you are five times more likely to suffer another fracture within a year. Worse still, for those that suffer a hip fracture, 40% are not able to walk independently again and up to a quarter of those who suffer a hip fracture die in the first year through complications.

In addition, the survey highlighted challenges in osteoporosis management may also sit at the primary care level. The majority (84%) of specialists agreed that increased awareness and understanding of osteoporosis is needed for general practitioners (GPs), and only 32% agreed that GPs refer suspected osteoporosis diagnoses in a timely manner.

With osteoporosis being the most common bone disease in the world, resulting in more than 8.9 million fragility fractures each year around the globe, more needs to be done to help educate and support general practitioners and patients on osteoporosis and the importance of timely referral and effective management.