Project set to improve care

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Lydia Osteoporosis Project set to improve care and comfort of patient

A donation of some £500,000, which was made to QMU by anonymous benefactors, is now set to transform the care of older people with osteoporosis.

The Lydia Osteoporosis Project was launched in 2011 and has been led by Dr Margaret Smith in the Nursing Division of QMU's School of Health Sciences.

The Project aimed to reduce the potential risk to people with osteoporosis of accidental injury linked to moving and handling, by increasing awareness of the prevalence of the condition and fracture risk.

The latter stages of the project have been focused on improving the knowledge and skills of frontline healthcare staff who, more often than not, will be treating those with the condition for other reasons and may not be aware their patient has osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a ‘silent disease’ where there are few outward signs or symptoms until it is well advanced or fractures are sustained.

It occurs when bone loss is greater than bone production, causing them to become weak and easily broken.

According to the National Osteoporosis Society one in two women, and one in five men, over the age of fifty who will break a bone will do so mainly as a result of poor bone health.

Dr Smith and the research team began by reviewing osteoporosis literature, investigating the in-hospital experiences of patients diagnosed with osteoporosis, and conducting qualitative interviews with healthcare professionals including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, radiographers and nurses.

They found there was an opportunity to improve the knowledge and understanding of osteoporosis and fracture risk in frontline staff.

Dr Smith said: “Osteoporosis tends not to be the reason why people are admitted to hospital and a person’s condition may not be known by frontline healthcare staff.

"Our funders wanted to increase knowledge of the prevalence of osteoporosis in the older population, some of whom could potentially sustain fractures because of sub-optimal handling in acute care.”

The team also scrutinised the manual handling literature to find out if this covered advice on moving patients who may have osteoporosis, and what needs to be done to address any education and training gaps.

Although best practice manual handling guidelines are in place with general principles that would cover a range of conditions including severe osteoporosis, health care practitioners can’t tell by looking whether their patient has the condition or not and so may not appreciate the risks.

Dr Smith continued: “If we can increase awareness of the pervasiveness of osteoporosis, then education and training will follow that assumes the condition is a possibility among patients.

"This means frontline staff can be better equipped to deliver more specialist, person centred care. X-rays, for example, offer a particular risk. Staff need be aware of the consequences of positioning people for procedures that could involve applying pressure or twisting and turning parts of the body.”

The final phase of the Lydia Osteoporosis Project, which draws to an end in October this year, involves the research team in working with IT professionals to develop a niche osteoporosis education social network in an interactive format for frontline staff.

When it is launched, this initiative will draw on the expertise of osteoporosis, manual handling and falls specialists, and provide links to the National Osteoporosis Society and further reading on the condition.

“This has been a very important research and education project which could have a wide reaching impact on the way older people are cared for in a hospital setting”, said Dr Smith.

“By increasing awareness of the prevalence of osteoporosis, and the steps frontline care staff should take to practice person centred patient handling and movement, we can hope to go some way to improving the care and comfort of patients.” 

The full findings from the Lydia Osteoporosis Project will be presented later this year to coincide with the launch of the interactive website.

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