Promoting bone health during Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
Ashley MacDearmid and Holly Patton are on a mission – to help people diagnosed with or at risk for osteoporosis remain healthy, active and independent.
The duo are MaineGeneral Orthopaedics employees: MacDearmid is a physician assistant who runs MaineGeneral’s Osteoporosis and Bone Health Program, while Patton, a registered nurse, is the program's nurse navigator.
In support of their mission, and during May's Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, they want to educate the general public about the program and what it can provide to individuals with the silent disease that can have dramatic, life-limiting consequences due to bone fractures if not identified and treated.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease where decreased bone strength and mass significantly increase the risk of fractures. As bones become less dense, they weaken and are more likely to break. Patients with the disease may be symptom-free and not even be aware they have it until they have a fracture and imaging leads to their diagnosis.
About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis, according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation™. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
The good news is that osteoporosis can be prevented and it's never too early to think about bone health. Diet and exercise play a large role.
A unique service close to home
MaineGeneral's Osteoporosis and Bone Health Program evolved from the Own the Bone® program and Fracture Liaison Service started by MaineGeneral Orthopaedics about a decade ago which tracked patients with diagnosed osteoporosis who had sustained hip fractures. Own the Bone® is part of a larger, national program operated by the American Orthopaedic Association.
The current program, MacDearmid said, is now much broader in scope and "more of a normal patient referral program where patients with osteoporosis are referred to us by primary care practices, ob-gyns and others." It is still affiliated with the Own the Bone® registry, to which Patton provides patient data regularly and was recognized as a repeat "Star Performer" in 2021, with the same designation expected in 2022.
"We see patients with osteoporosis for any reason – patients with or without a fracture who have had a bone density scan and are referred to us," MacDearmid said, "so we're seeing and treating many more patients without them necessarily having a fracture history."
Patton is the first point of contact for patients once they're referred to the program. She handles all received referrals, schedules appointments with patients and then meets with them initially. She sees patients on Mondays at MaineGeneral Orthopaedics in Augusta and Fridays at the practice's Oakland location.
"It's been very busy," she said, "plus we're getting more patients started on medications and they can come back to us for their injections, if that's the treatment plan the patient chooses."
MacDearmid added that patients have responded positively to having a screening appointment with Patton before meeting with her separately to discuss a treatment plan.
"They get dedicated one-on-one time with Holly, where she goes over their medical history as it pertains to osteoporosis, their risk factors and our education component," she said. "Then, if they choose, they're scheduled for a follow-up appointment with me to talk about medications. Patients seem to like the separate appointment because it gives them time to digest the information from their first appointment, and Holly has been a huge asset to our program."
Who can benefit
MacDearmid said while she and Patton have seen several younger patients with related risk factors, the program's typical patients are post-menopausal women age 50 and older.
The U.S. Preventive Task Force recommends that women age 65 and older and post-menopausal women younger than 65 with additional risk factors have a bone mineral density scan (DEXA) and laboratory testing every two years to look for osteoporosis. To help patients meet this recommendation and identify osteoporosis early, MaineGeneral offers DEXA screening by referral in Augusta, Gardiner, Waterville and Winthrop.
MacDearmid said one of the program's main goals – anytime during the year but particularly in May – is to make sure patients know about it and the support it can offer them as they age.
"The hardest sell for us are the patients who aren't in pain, haven't had a fracture and don't have a family history of osteoporosis," she said, "but once they understand that we're trying to help them keep their independence, it's much easier. We want to prevent fractures and keep patients from having a lifestyle shift."
"It's really important for an aging population, especially in the state of Maine, to have this resource," she added. "We have room for growth in terms of patients accessing our program, so talk to your primary care provider about getting a referral to the Bone Health Clinic at MaineGeneral Orthopaedics."
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