Primary-care clinicians are not having thorough enough discussions with patients on the use of dietary supplements, study findings indicate.

Data from 1,477 recorded office visits and 102 primary-care physicians was analyzed along with responses from patient and provider surveys. Providers discussed a total of 738 dietary supplements in encounters with 357 patients (24.2% of all encounters included in the data).

Providers mentioned the following topics during these discussions: (1) reason to take the supplement, for 46.5% of dietary supplements discussed; (2) how to take the supplement, for 28.2%; (3) risks, for 17.3%; (4) effectiveness, for 16.7%; and (5) cost or affordability, for 4.2%.

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Less than 25% of these topics were discussed during office visits, and an average of only 1.13 of these five topics were discussed for each supplement. More of the five topics were reviewed for non-vitamin, non-mineral supplements (mean: 1.47) than for vitamin/mineral supplements (mean: 0.99). The former have a greater potential for adverse interactions with medication than do the latter.

The investigators concluded that providers could more frequently address topics that may influence patient dietary-supplement use, such as the risks, effectiveness and costs of these products (Patient Educ Couns. 2013;91[3]: 287-294)