Although primary care physicians are discussing dietary supplements with patients during outpatient visits, these exchanges happen infrequently, according to research published in Patient Education and Counseling. (2013:91:287-294).

Derjung M. Tarn, MD, of the University of California in Los Angeles, and colleagues performed inductive analysis of the content from 1,477 transcripts of audio recordings of office visits to 102 primary care providers in practices in California and diverse settings throughout the United States.

Primary care physicians discussed information about dietary supplements during office visits with 357 patients (24.2% of all encounters recorded). For 738 dietary supplements that were discussed, the topics covered included the reason for taking the supplement (46.5%), instructions for taking the supplement (28.2%), potential risks (17.3%), efficacy (16.7%), and cost/affordability (4.2%). For each supplement, the number of topics discussed of these five averaged 1.13 topics. More topics were covered for non-vitamin, non-mineral supplements (mean, 1.47) than for vitamin, mineral supplements (mean, 0.99).

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“This is the first study to look at the actual content of conversations about dietary supplements in a primary care setting,” Dr. Tarn said in a statement. “The bottom line was that discussions about meaningful topics such as risks, effectiveness, and costs that might inform patient decisions about taking dietary supplements were sparse.”