The Hospital Frailty Risk Score

Alongside our new tool published today, a guest blog from Professor Simon Conroy discusses the advantages of being able to identify older people at risk in hospitals, and how it could make a real difference.

Blog post

Published: 21/08/2018

Please note that views expressed in guest articles on our website are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nuffield Trust.

In many respects, our ageing population is something to be celebrated, reflecting years of sustained improvements in how our society cares for older people through health and social care.

But while nowadays many older people live full, vibrant lives extending into their 80s and beyond, others do not enjoy such ‘successful’ ageing. Though it is undoubtedly important to focus on resilience and the positive aspects of ageing, it is also useful to think about those older people who are less resilient, or frail, and who might need a different form of support.

Where do we stand?

We already know quite a lot about how to improve outcomes for older people, primarily though using holistic care models. This is about assessing and managing the whole person, rather than just one aspect such as a heart condition. It typically involves a team of doctors, nurses and therapists working together to improve outcomes, and in the literature is referred to as a comprehensive geriatric assessment.

There is evidence that this type of treatment can reduce untimely deaths as well as prevent admission to long-term care. However, given that older people are such a mixed group – some relatively fit and well, others more vulnerable – a major difficulty for this type of work is how best to identify those most likely to benefit.

Developing understanding in hospitals

Using the concept of frailty, which captures vulnerability to poor outcomes or harm, researchers from the Nuffield Trust, London School of Economics and the universities of Leicester, Newcastle and Southampton have created a Hospital Frailty Risk Score (HFRS).

The score focuses on older people who are likely to be frail and who are more likely to experience poor outcomes during or after an acute hospital admission.

We focused on the hospital because, at present, there are no routine systems in place to allow hospitals or commissioners to identify frail older people. This contrasts with health care settings such as primary care (where the Electronic Frailty Index is in use) and other conditions such as stroke or heart failure, which are well captured on routine hospital information systems.

Identifying people at risk

The HFRS was developed using Hospital Episode Statistics (a database containing details of all admissions, A&E attendances and outpatient appointments at NHS hospitals in England), and validated on over one million older people using hospitals in 2014/15.

We found that the score was able to identify a relatively small proportion of people over 75 years old in hospitals who were at the greatest risk of harms. The group of people with the highest HFRS were 1.7 times more likely to die in hospital, had a six-fold increase in staying more than 10 days in hospital, and were 1.5 times more likely to be readmitted following discharge.

Importantly the HFRS can be calculated automatically, which removes the burden and potential errors associated with manual scoring systems. It performed at least as well, if not better, than many existing risk-scoring systems.

What are the advantages?

Routinely identifying older people at risk of adverse clinical and/or service outcomes in hospitals means being able to provide interventions specifically for frailty throughout their hospital episode. This could include broadening the assessment to take account of the whole patient and not just the medical issues – such as assessing cognition, for example. Doing so is critical in the acute setting, as it might prompt clinicians to differentiate delirium (an acute medical emergency) from dementia (a long-term condition) – the management for which is very different.

Alongside better service mapping, commissioning and evaluation that is focused on frail older people, a widely accepted method of identifying those people in acute hospital settings could also help to highlight the magnitude of the issue, enable more tailored services, and improve patient and service outcomes.

That could really change how we think about and organise acute hospital care, and make a real difference for both patients and services.

Professor Simon Conroy is a geriatrician at University Hospitals of Leicester.

Please note that views expressed in guest articles on our website are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nuffield Trust.

Comprehensive geriatric assessment: needs assessment tool 06/09/2018Dr Elizabeth Fisher | Eilís Keeble | Joshua Kraindler

Research

The Nuffield Trust has developed a tool to help providers and commissioners of care in England assess the needs of frail older people being cared for in hospital.

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Nuffield Trust part of winning team for Lancet research award 23/05/2019

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Researchers from the Nuffield Trust have been awarded for their work on assessing frailty among older people in hospital.

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