Physician-patient communication about dietary supplements

Derjung M. Tarn, Debora A. Paterniti, Jeffrey S. Good, Ian D. Coulter, James M. Galliher, Richard L. Kravitz, Arun S. Karlamangla, Neil S. Wenger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: Describe the content and frequency of provider-patient dietary supplement discussions during primary care office visits. Methods: Inductive content analysis of 1477 transcribed audio-recorded office visits to 102 primary care providers was combined with patient and provider surveys. Encounters were collected in Los Angeles, CA (2009-2010), geographically diverse practice settings across the United States (2004-2005), and Sacramento, CA (1998-1999). Results: Providers discussed 738 dietary supplements during encounters with 357 patients (24.2% of all encounters in the data). They mentioned: (1) reason for taking the supplement for 46.5% of dietary supplements; (2) how to take the supplement for 28.2%; (3) potential risks for 17.3%; (4) supplement effectiveness for 16.7%; and (5) supplement cost or affordability for 4.2%. Of these five topics, a mean of 1.13 (SD. =. 1.2) topics were discussed for each supplement. More topics were reviewed for non-vitamin non-mineral supplements (mean 1.47 (SD. =. 1.2)) than for vitamin/mineral supplements (mean 0.99 (SD. =. 1.1); p<. 0.001). Conclusion: While discussions about supplements are occurring, it is clear that more discussion might be needed to inform patient decisions about supplement use. Practice implications: Physicians could more frequently address topics that may influence patient dietary supplement use, such as the risks, effectiveness, and costs of supplements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-294
Number of pages8
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Dietary supplement
  • Physician-patient communication
  • Physician-patient interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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