| In almost all patients with incident fractures, the absolute risk of subsequent fracture and mortality is highest immediately after the fracture is incurred; the risk is substantially increased in frail elderly patients. The risk factors for incident fractures, such as bone fragility, tendency to fall and the presence of metabolic bone disease, remain underdiagnosed and undertreated. Here, we review the evidence that demonstrates the influence of these risk factors on susceptibility to subsequent fracture and mortality after an incident fracture, and discuss the tools available to predict these outcomes. In this Review, we also propose a systematic, coordinator-based approach to assessment of risk, allocation of treatment and follow-up in all patients over 50 years of age who present with a fracture. The aim of this proposed multistep procedure is to improve the prevention of secondary fracture, decrease mortality rates and reduce patient undertreatment or overtreatment.