A pragmatic proposal for triaging DXA testing during the COVID-19 global pandemic

Osteoporos Int. 2021 Jan;32(1):1-6. doi: 10.1007/s00198-020-05722-4. Epub 2020 Nov 4.


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in huge disruption to healthcare provision, including to dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) imaging. Increased waiting lists for DXA from the pandemic mean potential long and uncertain delays in treatment for osteoporosis. To address these increased waiting lists, we propose a rapid, simple, one-stop algorithm incorporating medication use (aromatase inhibitor, corticosteroid) and clinical risk stratification supplementing a standard FRAX assessment. Our pragmatic algorithm produces a recommendation to treat empirically, image with DXA, or observe. If applied, we model a significant reduction in DXA scan requirements with a corresponding reduction in treatment delays for those awaiting DXA. We estimate this will reduce DXA scan numbers by about 50%, whilst pragmatically ensuring those with the highest clinical need correctly receive treatment without delay. This algorithm will help many clinicians including general practitioners/family physicians prioritise DXA when they may not always have the expertise to make this judgement based on clinical information alone. Although we have used UK guidelines as an example, this approach is flexible enough for adaptation by other countries based on their local guidelines, licensing, prescribing requirements, and DXA waiting list times. There are some limitations to our proposal. However, it represents one way of managing the uncertainty of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: BMD; COVID-19; DXA; FRAX; Osteoporosis.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon*
  • Algorithms
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • COVID-19*
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods*
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Osteoporosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Osteoporotic Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Pandemics
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Telephone
  • Waiting Lists


  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Glucocorticoids