Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Urban Australian general practitioners’ perceptions of falls risk screening, falls risk assessment, and referral practices for falls prevention: an exploratory cross-sectional survey study

Kajtek Kielich A , Lynette Mackenzie A B , Meryl Lovarini A and Lindy Clemson A

A Ageing Work and Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, 75 East Street, University of Sydney, Lidcombe, NSW 2141, Australia. Email: kajtek.kielich@gmail.com; meryl.lovarini@sydney.edu.au; lindy.clemson@sydney.edu.au

B Corresponding author. Email: lynette.mackenzie@sydney.edu.au

Australian Health Review - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH15152
Submitted: 11 August 2015  Accepted: 9 February 2016   Published online: 21 April 2016

Abstract

Objective The study aimed to explore Australian general practitioners’ (GPs) perceptions of falls risk screening, assessment and their referral practices with older people living in the community, and to identify any barriers or facilitators to implementing evidence-based falls prevention practice.

Methods Hardcopy surveys and a link to an online survey were distributed to 508 GPs working at one Medicare Local (now part of a Primary Care Network) located in Sydney, Australia. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and key themes were identified from open text responses.

Results A total of 37 GPs returned the survey. Only 10 (27%) GPs routinely asked older people about falls, and five (13.5%) asked about fear of falls during clinical consultations. Barriers to managing falls risk were identified. GPs estimated that they made few referrals to allied health professionals for falls interventions.

Conclusions GPs were knowledgeable about falls risk factors but this did not result in consistent falls risk screening, assessment or referral practices. Due to the small sample, further research is needed with a larger sample to augment these results.

What is known about the topic? Falls are a common and serious health issue for older people and fall prevention is vital, especially in the primary care setting. General practitioners (GPs) are key health professionals to identify older people at risk of falls and refer them to appropriate health professionals for intervention. Evidence-based falls prevention interventions exist but are not easily or routinely accessed by older people.

What does this paper add? GPs believe that previous falls are an important falls risk factor but they do not routinely ask about falls or fear of falls in clinical practice with older people. GP referral rates to allied health professionals for falls prevention are low, despite evidence-based falls prevention interventions being provided by allied health professionals. There are several barriers to GPs providing falls prevention assessment and intervention referrals, particularly using the current primary health systems.

What are the implications for practitioners? GPs need to recognise their potential significant contribution to falls prevention in the community and may require tailored training. Sustainable evidence-based referral pathways need to be developed so that older people can be referred to allied health professionals for falls prevention interventions in the primary care setting, and better local networks need to be developed to allow this to occur. Policy makers may have to address the identified barriers to multidisciplinary practice and funding of services to facilitate effective falls prevention programs in primary care.

Additional keywords: accidental falls, allied health, multidisciplinary, occupational therapy, physiotherapy.


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