Task force recommends new osteoporosis screening protocols

A government task force organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released new guidelines concerning the age at which Americans should begin getting regularly screened for osteoporosis.

A notable update among these protocols is the recommendation that women under the age of 60 be tested for osteoporosis if they exhibit certain risk factors. This change is particularly important because the guidelines determine who will receive automatic insurance coverage for these tests.

The new guidelines were released by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a federal division that falls within the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) has previously suggested that all women over 65 and all men over 70 receive bone density screening from their healthcare providers. This was essentially the USPSTF's position prior to the newly released statement.

Now, the task force has announced that postmenopausal women under the age of 60 should be unilaterally screened for osteoporosis if they smoke, drink alcohol, have suffered fractures, are white or are relatively petite in build.

This recommendation conforms to similar ones made by the NOF and the World Health Organization.

To illustrate the necessity of this new proposal, the USPSTF gave examples of hypothetical female patients whose 10-year risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures would be higher than that of a 65-year-old woman with no other risk factors.

These included a 50-year-old smoker and daily alcohol user with a low body mass index and a familial history of fractures and a 55-year-old with nothing more than a parental history of broken bones.

One of the consequences of the new guidelines is that postmenopausal women who display risk factors for osteoporosis will receive automatic insurance coverage for tests that result from the USPSTF protocol.

This automatic qualification stems from changes made at the federal level to laws that require insurance providers to cover certain USPSTF-prompted tests for osteoporosis and other health conditions.