Herbs and other dietary supplements: healthcare professionals' knowledge, attitudes, and practices

Altern Ther Health Med. May-Jun 2003;9(3):42-9.


Context: Herbs and other dietary supplements (H/DS) are frequently used by the public. They have significant health implications, yet little is known about health professionals' knowledge, attitudes, or clinical practices related to H/DS.

Design: Cross-sectional survey of clinicians prior to participation in an Internet-based educational program on herbs and dietary supplements.

Participants: The 537 participants included 111 physicians (MD), 30 advanced practice nurses (RN), 46 pharmacists (PharmD), and 350 dietitians (RD). In addition to demographic information, participants were asked about their knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to H/DS.

Results: Most participants were involved in direct patient care (85%), in practice or on faculty (84%), and from outside our local institutions (76%); 66% reported receiving professional education about H/DS in the past year. There were statistically significant differences between professional groups, with RDs scoring better than others, but even their average scores were less than 60% of possible. The average score on knowledge questions was 10/20; the average confidence score was 4 out of 10 possible, and the average communication score was 1.4 out of 4 possible. Most respondents knew the most common clinical uses of echinacea and St. John's wort, and felt confident that they knew more than their colleagues about H/DS. Key deficits were in knowledge about adverse effects, confidence in reporting side effects, routinely communicating with patients about H/DS, and recording H/DS information in the medical record.

Conclusions: Despite significant interest and previous training in H/DS, these clinicians had substantial room for improvement in knowledge, attitudes, and clinical practices about H/DS. Educational interventions and institutional policies are needed to improve the quality of patient care regarding H/DS, and such interventions should be rigorously evaluated to ensure that continuous improvements occur.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Dietetics / statistics & numerical data
  • Faculty / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse Clinicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Pharmacists / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Professional Competence*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States