Detection and Management of Falls and Instability in Vulnerable Elders by Community Physicians

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, v. 52, no. 9, Sep. 2004, p. 1627-1531

by Laurence Rubenstein, David Solomon, Carol P. Roth, Roy Young, Paul G. Shekelle, John T. Chang, Catherine MacLean, Caren Kamberg, Debra Saliba, Neil S. Wenger

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OBJECTIVES: To investigate quality of care for falls and instability provided to vulnerable elders. DESIGN: Six process of care quality indicators (QIs) for falls and instability were developed and applied to community-living persons aged 65 and older who were at increased risk of death or decline. QIs were implemented using medical records and patient interviews. SETTING: Northeastern and southwestern United States. PARTICIPANTS: Three hundred seventy-two vulnerable elders enrolled in two senior managed care plans. MEASUREMENTS: Percentage of QIs satisfied concerning falls or mobility disorders. RESULTS: Of the 372 consenting vulnerable elders with complete medical records, 57 had documentation of 69 episodes of two or more falls or fall with injury during the 13-month study period (14% of patients fell per year, 18% incidence). Double this frequency was reported at interview. An additional 22 patients had documented mobility problems. Clinical history of fall circumstances, comorbidity, medications, and mobility was documented from 47% of fallers and two or more of these four elements from 85%. Documented physical examination was less complete, with only 6% of fallers examined for orthostatic blood pressure, 7% for gait or balance, 25% for vision, and 28% for neurological findings. The evaluation led to specific recommendations in only 26% of cases, but when present they usually led to appropriate treatment modalities. Mobility problems without falls were evaluated with gait or balance examination in 23% of cases and neurological examination in 55%. CONCLUSION: Community physicians appear to underdetect falls and gait disorders. Detected falls often receive inadequate evaluation, leading to a paucity of recommendations and treatments. Adhering to guidelines may improve outcomes in community-dwelling older adults.

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