The landmark "Life...supplemented" Healthcare Professionals (HCP) Impact Study found that more than three quarters of U.S. physicians (79 percent) and nurses (82 percent) recommend dietary supplements to their patients.
The study also shows that an almost equal number—72 percent of physicians and 89 percent of nurses—personally use vitamin, mineral, herbal and other supplements either regularly, occasionally or seasonally, which is a higher percentage than the 68 percent of adults who report they take nutritional or dietary supplements.
With mainstream use of dietary supplements in the U.S.—more than 150 million Americans take them each year—the 2007 “Life…supplemented” HCP Impact Study on dietary supplements was designed to evaluate the personal attitudes and use of dietary supplements by physicians and nurses and to determine if those factors impact whether they recommend supplements for their patients. The study was sponsored by the “Life…supplemented” consumer wellness campaign, which is managed by the Council for Responsible Nutrition.
Who Recommends Supplements? Of the 72 percent of physicians who use supplements, 85 percent also recommend them to their patients; and of the 28 percent of physicians who do not use supplements, three out of five (62 percent) still recommend them.
“It is common sense that physicians who personally take supplements also recommend them to their patients,” said Donnica Moore, M.D., president of the Sapphire Women's Health Group and a member of the study's physician advisor team. She added, “It's interesting that the majority of physicians who don't use supplements still recognize their patients may benefit from them. Although the study doesn't provide an explanation, it may simply be that physicians recommend supplements to their patients for specific conditions that don't apply to the physician's own personal health.”
Should Physicians Recommend More Supplements? The number of physicians recommending dietary supplements to their patients is highest among obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) (91 percent), followed by primary care physicians (84 percent). In addition, the study shows that almost three quarters of physicians (72 percent) and more than three quarters of nurses (88 percent) say it is a good idea for patients to take a multivitamin.
The study found that almost half of physicians and nurses who take supplements most often do so for “overall health/wellness benefits,” while 41 percent of physicians and 62 percent of nurses who recommend supplements most often do so for the same reasons. Primary care physicians, OB/GYNs and nurses recommend supplements as often for “general well-being/prevention” as they do for special conditions, while other specialists recommend supplements more often for special conditions.
According to Dr. Moore, “It makes sense to me that OB/GYNs are the group most likely to recommend supplements, although I am concerned that not all OB/GYNs reported they recommend them for their prenatal patients, given that women's health - especially prenatal - is one arena where the data supporting supplement use is overwhelmingly positive.”
Among the physicians surveyed, 51 percent use dietary supplements regularly, 19 percent use them occasionally and two percent use them seasonally. Among nurses, 59 percent use them regularly, 27 percent use them occasionally and 3 percent use them seasonally.
Initiating the Discussion. "Given the current state of the science, it is not surprising that increasing numbers of healthcare professionals are incorporating dietary supplements into their personal health routines. However, the fact that only 25 percent of physicians actively counsel patients regarding their dietary supplement use demonstrates an on-going and concerning problem that requires more outreach and education,” said Tieraona Low Dog, M.D, director of education, Program in Integrative Medicine, and clinical assistant professor, Department of Medicine, University of Arizona Health Sciences.
Paula Gardiner, M.D., an assistant professor at Boston University Medical Center, who has conducted several surveys on the use of dietary supplements by physicians and is a member of the study's physician advisor team, cites the need for additional research, saying: “It is critical to better understand how healthcare professionals recommend dietary supplements to their patients and how we can support educational initiatives to encourage dialogue between HCPs and their patients about the proper use of dietary supplements.”
Almost three quarters of physicians (72 percent) and even more nurses (87 percent) reported they personally ask their patients about their use of dietary supplements. Also, 40 percent of physicians and 43 percent of nurses report that when discussing supplements with their patients, they, not their patients, are the ones who bring up the subject most often. Only 13 percent of physicians and one percent of nurses agreed with the statement that “no one in my practice inquires about which dietary supplements patients are taking.”
Methodology: The “Life…supplemented” HCP Impact Study of 1,177 healthcare professionals (300 primary care physicians, 301 OB/GYNs, 299 other physician specialists and 277 registered nurses and nurse practitioners) was conducted online, October 3-11, 2007 by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Margins of sampling error at a 95 percent confidence level range from +5.6 percent to +5.9 percent for each of the four groups of healthcare professionals surveyed. A nominal honorarium was given to each healthcare professional completing the survey.