Perceived Efficacy, Indications, and Information Sources for Medically Indigent Patients and Their Healthcare Providers Regarding Dietary Supplements

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Annals of Pharmacotherapy


Background: Evidence exists that medically indigent and minority patients use dietary supplements at rates as high or higher than that of the general population. Safety concerns regarding the use of dietary supplements are further exacerbated by a suboptimal level of patient disclosure and provider inquiry.

Objective: To determine dietary supplement use, indications, perceived efficacy, and information sources of patients and providers using a pilot study in a clinic for the medically indigent.

Methods: Five hundred self-administered patient surveys and 50 healthcare provider surveys were made available to any patient at a free health clinic in Kansas City, MO. Surveys were collected and descriptive analyses were performed.

Results: Three hundred eleven patient surveys were returned. Of the 37.3% (116/311) of respondents who had used dietary supplements, 13.8% (n = 16) had 10 comorbid conditions. Ninety-six dietary supplements were used for 8 medical condition categories. The 9 agents most frequently reported used were garlic (n = 32), aloe/green tea (n = 27 each), chamomile/echinacea (n = 24 each), St. John's wort (n = 22), ginseng (n = 18), and cranberry/Ginkgo biloba (n = 17 each). Patients reported a broad range of indications for taking dietary supplements. Patients reported (mean +/- SD) 2.37 +/- 4.23 agents as effective and 0.78 +/- 1.73 as ineffective or harmful. Provider surveys revealed that 60% (21/35) and 74% (26/35) were currently or had ever used dietary supplements, respectively. Fifty-seven percent (20/35) of providers reported attending educational programs on dietary supplements, and providers perceived patient supplement use to be most influenced by advertisements (40%) and friends (40%).

Conclusions: The medically indigent population uses a wide variety of dietary supplements. There is little consistency in perceived indications, which may prevent clinicians from accurately predicting specific herbal use rationale given any individual's or population's set of comorbid conditions. Clinicians are encouraged to accurately determine their individual practice setting's use pattern.



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Complementary medicine, Dietary supplement, Medically indigent, Providers