Open Access Research article

Screening for frailty in primary care: a systematic review of the psychometric properties of the frailty index in community-dwelling older people

Irene Drubbel1*, Mattijs E Numans12, Guido Kranenburg1, Nienke Bleijenberg1, Niek J de Wit1 and Marieke J Schuurmans3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of General Practice, Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, Str. 6.131, Universiteitsweg 100, 3584 CG, Utrecht, the Netherlands

2 Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Leiden University Medical Center, Hippocratespad 21, 2333 RC, Leiden, the Netherlands

3 University Medical Center Utrecht, Department of Rehabilitation, Nursing Science and Sports Medicine, Heidelberglaan 100, 3584 CX, Utrecht, the Netherlands

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Geriatrics 2014, 14:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-14-27

Published: 6 March 2014



To better accommodate for the complex care needs of frail, older people, general practitioners must be capable of easily identifying frailty in daily clinical practice, for example, by using the frailty index (FI). To explore whether the FI is a valid and adequate screening instrument for primary care, we conducted a systematic review of its psychometric properties.


We searched the Cochrane, PubMed and Embase databases and included original studies focusing on the criterion validity, construct validity and responsiveness of the FI when applied in community-dwelling older people. We evaluated the quality of the studies included using the Quality in Prognosis Studies (QUIPS) tool. This systematic review was conducted based on the PRISMA statement.


Of the twenty studies identified, eighteen reported on FIs derived from research data, one reported upon an FI derived from an administrative database of home-care clients, and one reported upon an FI derived from routine primary care data. In general, the FI showed good criterion and construct validity but lacked studies on responsiveness. When compared with studies that used data gathered for research purposes, there are indications that the FI mean score and range might be different in datasets using routine primary care data; however, this finding needs further investigation.


Our results suggest that the FI is a valid frailty screening instrument. However, further research using routine Electronic Medical Record data is necessary to investigate whether the psychometric properties of the FI are generalizable to a primary care setting and to facilitate its interpretation and implementation in daily clinical practice.

Trial registration

PROSPERO systematic review register number: CRD42013003737.

Frailty; Systematic review; Psychometric properties; Primary care; Screening; Older patients