Skip to main content

Are Physicians Aware of the Risks of Alternative Medicine?

Abstract

Evidence supports the fact that alternative medical therapies play an increasingly prominent role in healthcare. Relevantly, this study posed three questions: (1) Do physicians ask their patients about their use of herbs/dietary supplements? (2) Do physicians use the available resources to evaluate the possible drug interactions and/or side effects of the dietary supplements? and (3) Are physicians aware of the side effects, drug interactions and contraindications of ten commonly used herbs? A questionnaire was randomly distributed to medical students and faculty of the State University of New York, Health Science Center at Brooklyn. One hundred sixty five surveys were returned out of 193 handed out (85%). Analysis revealed that although many physicians asked their patients about their use of alternative remedies, most do not check the remedies in a reference text. Age and training were negatively correlated in a statistically significant manner with (1) the likelihood of a physician prescribing alternative medicines; (2) checking the side effects and drug interactions of over the counter and prescription medications in a reference text; (3) asking patients specifically about alternative medicines; and (4) checking the side effects and drug interactions of alternative remedies in a reference text. In a question matching ten herbs and side-effects, the highest score was six out of ten correct and the average number correct was 1.32 with a standard deviation of 1.39. Clearly, physicians may be aware of different forms of alternative medicines. However, physicians are still not treating herbs in the same manner as other types of medications. There is no doubt that patient care would be greatly enhanced if physicians educated themselves and stayed in touch with their patients' beliefs and health care behavior.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  1. Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, Ettner SL, et al. Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990-1997. JAMA 1998;280:1569-1575.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ernst E. Prevalence of complementary/alternative medicine for children: A systematic survey. Eur J Ped 1999;158:7-11.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Barrett B, Kiefer D, Rabago D. Assessing the risks and benefits of herbal medicine: An overview of scientific evidence. Altern Ther Health Med 1999;5:40-49.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Ask Dr. Weil. http://www.pathfinder.com/drweil.

  5. The Official Website for Dr. Atkins. http://www.atkinscenter.com.

  6. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/nccam/ about/general/html.

  7. Miller LG. Herbal medicinals: Selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions. Arch Int Med 1998;158:2200-2211.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Winslow LC, Kroll DJ. Herbs as medicines. Arch Int Med 1998;158:2192-2199.

    Google Scholar 

  9. To Err is Human. Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. Washington, D.C., 1999.

  10. Al-Faris EA. The pattern of alternative medicine use in a military population in Ryadh. Unpublished manuscript, 1999.

  11. Jenkins CA, Scarfe A, Bruera E. Integration of palliative care with alternative medicine in patients who have refused curative cancer therapy. J Palliative Care 1998;14:55-59.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Daily L. More HMO's covering alternative treatments and complementary care. Physicians Financial News 1999;17(9):s1,s6.

    Google Scholar 

  13. The PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Co., 1998.

  14. Berman BM, Singh BK, Lao L, et al. Physicians' attitudes toward complementary or alternative medicine: A regional survey. J Am Board Fam Pract 1995;8:361-366.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Wetzel MS, Eisenberg DM, Kaputchak TJ. Courses involving complementary and alternative medicine at U.S. medical schools. JAMA 1998;280:784-787.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Ruedy J, Kaufman DM, MacLeod H. Alternative and complementary medicine in Canada: A survey. Can Med Assn J 1999;160:816-818.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Berman BM, Singh BB, Harnoll SM, et al. Primary care physicians and complementary-alternative medicine: Training, attitudes, and practice patterns. J Am Board Fam Pract 1998;11:272-280.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Carlston M, Stuart MR, Jonas W. Alternative medicine instruction in medical schools and family practice residency programs. Fam Med 1997;29:559-562.

    Google Scholar 

  19. White AR, Mitchell A, Ernst E. Familiarization with complementary medicine: Report of a new course for primary care physicians. J Altern Complement Med 1996;2:307-314.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Owen D. Familiarizing medical students with complementary medicine: Encouraging new attitudes and ideas. Complement Ther Med 1999;7:38-41.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Vickers A. A proposal for teaching critical thinking to students and practitioners of complementary medicine. Altern Ther Health Med 1997;3:57-62.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Milan FB, Landau C, Murphy DC, et al. Teaching residents about complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. J Gen Intern Med 1998;13:562-567.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Cottrell K. Herbal products begin to attract the attention of brand-name drug companies. Can Med Assn J 1996;155:216-219.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Telephone interview with Nathan Shore, Canadian pharmacist, May 2000.

  25. Perkin MR, Pearcy RM, Fraser JS. A Comparison of the attitudes shown by general practitioners, hospital doctors, and medical students toward alternative medicine. J Royal Soc Med 1994;87:523-525.

    Google Scholar 

  26. MSNBC. Herbs may interfere with anesthesia. October 14, 1999. http://www.msnbc.com/news/ 323380.asp.

  27. MSNBC. Drugstore chain to check herbal supplements against prescriptions. Jan. 20, 2000. http://www.msnbc.com/news/360130.asp.

  28. The mainstreaming of alternative medicine. Consumer Reports. 2000;65(5):17-25.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Silverstein, D.D., Spiegel, A.D. Are Physicians Aware of the Risks of Alternative Medicine?. Journal of Community Health 26, 159–174 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010303528081

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010303528081

  • alternative medicine
  • herbs
  • patient care
  • side effects
  • physician practices