BACKGROUND: Although mass screening for osteoporosis is not recommended among postmenopausal women, there is no consensus on which women should undergo testing for low bone mineral density. The objective of this study was to develop and validate a clinical tool to help clinicians identify which women are at increased risk for osteoporosis and should therefore undergo further testing with bone densitometry. METHODS: Using Ontario baseline data from the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study, we identified all cognitively normal women aged 45 years or more who had undergone testing with dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) at both the femoral neck and the lumbar spine (L1-L4). Participants who had a previous diagnosis of osteoporosis or were taking bone active medication other than ovarian hormones were excluded. The main outcome measure was low bone mineral density (T score of 2 or more standard deviations below the mean for young Canadian women) at either the femoral neck or the lumbar spine. Logistic regression analysis and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis were used to identify the simplest algorithm that would identify women at increased risk for low bone mineral density. RESULTS: The study population comprised 1376 women, of whom 926 were allocated to the development of the tool and 450 to its validation. A simple algorithm based on age, weight and current estrogen use (yes or no) was developed. Validation of this 3-item Osteoporosis Risk Assessment Instrument (ORAI) showed that the tool had a sensitivity of 93.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] 86.3%-97.0%) and a specificity of 46.4% (95% CI 41.0%-51.8%) for selecting women with low bone mineral density. The sensitivity of the instrument for selecting women with osteoporosis was 94.4% (95% CI 83.7%-98.6%). Use of the ORAI represented a 38.7% reduction in DXA testing compared with screening all women in our study. INTERPRETATION: The ORAI accurately identifies the vast majority of women likely to have low bone mineral density and is effective in substantially decreasing the need for all women to undergo DXA testing.