Woman on the floor

Research innovation could prevent falls and save the NHS billions

In a move that could help healthcare professionals specialise and tailor their care much more effectively, researchers have developed a new tool that can accurately identify the patients that are at a high-risk of having a serious fall.

The feat was achieved by researchers from the University of Oxford, who, whilst developing the tool, analysed almost two million healthcare records from English GP surgeries between just before the millennium in 1998 and just before the pandemic in 2018.

The researchers then identified more than 60,000 people who fit the criteria of being at high-risk of falling, which let the study team develop a model of factors that might be precursors to a patient falling – gender, age, ethnicity, medications, alcohol consumption, smoking etc.

Upon subsequent creation of the tool, the researchers then benchmarked the accuracy of their new innovation against a separate database of nearly four million healthcare records.

Dr Constantinos Koshiaris, Senior Medical Statistician in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, who developed the tool, said: “In the past, we have struggled to identify people at risk of falling in the community. Previous falls-risk tools were not very accurate and in some cases had methodological flaws.

“Our new STRATIFY-Falls tool can predict which patients are most at risk of falling in the next one to 10 years. This could allow GPs to provide more personalised care and target falls prevention strategies for patients, such as exercise-based interventions or drug reviews.”

Not only could this tool help GPs provide more personalised and preventative care as Dr Koshiaris says, it could also save the NHS a lot of money – it is estimated that approximately 235,000 hospital admissions for people over 65 are down to falls in England. This costs the NHS north of £2bn every single year.

However, even though the tool is freely available to researchers at the moment, clinicians and other medical professionals will have to wait for their go-ahead as the original study team intend to conduct further tests in a new randomised controlled trial next year.

Professor Richard McManus, a practising GP and Professor of Primary Care Research at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford explained: “In 2023, we will begin recruiting over 3,000 participants who are at high-risk of falls to the NIHR-funded OPTIMISE2 trial. We will use the STRATIFY-Falls tool to identify these potential participants and then follow them up to see if they experience fewer falls after deprescribing their blood pressure lowering treatment.”

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