The Bone Bus might sound a bit like the title of a Stephen King horror novel, but if one comes to a town near you it could be a life saver.
A total of 17 bone buses are regularly wending their way around Australia visiting regional, rural and remote communities giving bone scans to people who might otherwise have to travel long distances for the potentially life saving test for osteoporosis and low bone density (known as osteopenia).
Run by health company MeasureUp, the buses have state of the art DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) scan machines which painlessly measure the density of bone in the hip and spine. They are operated by highly trained technicians.
Osteoporosis affects millions of people worldwide and can lead to an increased risk of bone fractures and a decline in quality of life.
Currently, more than 900,000 Australians are living with osteoporosis, including one in four women aged over 75.
The Bone Buses currently work with 2,500 medical centres around Australia but more are signing up for the service. For people living in rural and remote areas getting a scan can be difficult even if there is a radiology clinic in town as not all clinics have the specialist DEXA equipment needed.
The buses provide early osteoporosis, osteopenia, and associated fracture detection through the DEXA scans. Local medical practices provide referrals for the testing which is bulk-billed for people 70 and over.
Patients who have had a minimal trauma fracture (such a broken wrist), or early onset menopause are also eligible to have a bulk-billed scan every 12-24 months depending on the person and following discussions with their GP.
Osteoporosis is a major health issue in Australia's ageing population. The total cost to the government, community and individuals of osteoporosis, osteopenia and associated fractures was estimated to be $33.6 billion from 2013 to 2022.
"It's a really important test to have done." said MeasureUp's chief operating officer, Dr Jarrod Meerkin. "The only way you're going to know about osteoporosis or low bone density is by having the test done.
"Achieving and maintaining good bone health involves being physically active; and resistance training has been shown to be most effective in maintaining bone density."
Dr Meerkin said the company regularly received calls from medical practices requesting a visit by a bone bus.
It's a really important test to have done. The only way you're going to know about osteoporosis or low bone density is by having the test done.- MeasureUp's chief operating officer, Dr Jarrod Meerkin.
He said 25 per cent of the scans completed showed normal bone density, 50 per cent were osteoporatic and 25 per cent showed osteopenia.
Risks associated with osteoporosis are serious. Around 25 per cent (one in four) people aged 70 and over who have a hip fracture die within six months.
Using data from 2013 to 2017 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed the rate of first hip fracture increased from 12 per 100,000 at age 45 - 54 to 2,900 per 100,000 aged 95 and over and was higher for women than men. Hip fractures were more common among older women and people from residential aged care.
Forced into residential aged care
Hip fractures also involve substantial in-hospital care with patients aged 75 - 94 spending an average of 22 days on a ward. Patients living in the community before their hip fracture had a longer length of stay (median 26 days) than patients from residential aged care (median eight days). In addition 16 per cent of surgical patients were re-admitted to hospital within 30 days after the end of their hospital stay. Over the year following the first hip fracture, 3 per cent were hospitalised with a second hip fracture.
More than one is seven people who were living in the community at the time of the fracture had to go into residential aged care and were still there at 120 days.
So what happens if you have a scan and it shows osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Dr Meerkin said osteopenia would usually be dealt treated with lifestyle changes including diet and exercise, particularly weight bearing exercise. Medications might be prescribed by the GP for those showing osteoporosis and he had seen cases where thinning bone density was reversed.
Think you need a bone scan - see your GP.
For more information about The Bone Bus services www.thebonebus.com.au