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Are Physicians Aware of the Risks of Alternative Medicine?


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.

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Silverstein, D.D., Spiegel, A.D. Are Physicians Aware of the Risks of Alternative Medicine?. Journal of Community Health 26, 159–174 (2001).

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