Doctors Flunk Quiz About Supplements Their Patients Use

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's common knowledge that Americans are taking more dietary supplements than ever. But a recent study found that doctors know surprisingly little about over-the-counter vitamins and herbs, to the possible detriment of their patients.

Internal medicine researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led by Bimal H. Ashar, surveyed 355 physicians, 90 percent of them residents, at 15 internal medicine programs around the country.

Each physician took a brief online test assessing their knowledge of the regulation of the multibillion-dollar supplement industry, followed by an online tutorial and a second quiz to measure what they had learned.

Before the testing, which was administered early last year, many doctors knew little about supplements: One-third did not know they do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration or that safety and efficacy data are not required as a condition of sale. One-third of doctors also did not know that the quality of supplements is not regulated, while 60 percent were unaware that adverse reactions to them should be reported to the FDA.

Physicians scored an average of 59 percent on the first test. That number rose to 91 percent after completion of the course.

The authors suggest that doctors' general ignorance about dietary supplements may help explain why so few adverse events are reported to the FDA's MedWatch system.

Educating physicians, the authors report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, may enhance conversations with their patients about the safety of these widely used products.

-- Sandra G. Boodman

© 2007 The Washington Post Company