Research Article| Volume 18, ISSUE 1, P127-149, January 1996

Osteoporosis: the need for comprehensive treatment guidelines

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      Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease that results in nearly 1.3 million fractures per year in the United States. The cost of treating these fractures has been estimated to be as high as $10 billion per year. These costs are expected to more than double during the next 50 years unless comprehensive programs of prevention and treatment are initiated. Both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions (eg, diet and exercise) have been shown to have a significant impact on the incidence of osteoporosis, depending on the time of their application. Unfortunately, osteoporosis is often not diagnosed until after fractures have occurred, when it may be too late for treatment to have a major impact. To be most effective, therapy should be started early, before serious bone loss has occurred. Because of its efficacy and relatively low acquisition cost, long-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is considered first-line pharmacologic therapy for the prevention of osteoporosis. However, for various reasons, less than 25% of US women who might benefit from HRT are receiving it. Aside from HRT, the only other products approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of osteoporosis are salmon calcitonin and alendronate. Several other agents are under development, including sustained-release fluoride and other products in the bisphosphonate class. The development and adoption of early detection programs and treatment guidelines are crucial to help ease the economic burden of osteoporosis. These guidelines should incorporate preventive measures such as diet and exercise, risk assessment through proper screening programs, and the appropriate use of pharmaceutical products. The purpose of this paper is to discuss relevant economic issues associated with osteoporosis and discuss the need for a management algorithm that could be used to more efficiently prevent and treat this disease. We conclude that further modeling is needed to determine which programs and treatments are most cost-effective within each at-risk subgroup. As clinicians better understand the need for preventive care and the advantages of the various pharmacologic therapies, patients with osteoporosis will receive higher-quality and more efficient medical care.
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