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Open Access Research article

Evaluating the value of a web-based natural medicine clinical decision tool at an academic medical center

Sue Boehmer1 and Kelly Karpa2*

  • * Corresponding author: Kelly Karpa kjd136@psu.edu

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of Biostatistics, Penn State University College of Medicine, 500 University Drive, Hershey, PA 17033, USA

2 Department of Pharmacology, Penn State University College of Medicine, 500 University Drive Hershey, PA 17033, USA

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BMC Health Services Research 2011, 11:279  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-279

Published: 19 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Consumer use of herbal and natural products (H/NP) is increasing, yet physicians are often unprepared to provide guidance due to lack of educational training. This knowledge deficit may place consumers at risk of clinical complications. We wished to evaluate the impact that a natural medicine clinical decision tool has on faculty attitudes, practice experiences, and needs with respect to H/NP.

Methods

All physicians and clinical staff (nurse practitioners, physicians assistants) (n = 532) in departments of Pediatrics, Family and Community Medicine, and Internal Medicine at our medical center were invited to complete 2 electronic surveys. The first survey was completed immediately before access to a H/NP clinical-decision tool was obtained; the second survey was completed the following year.

Results

Responses were obtained from 89 of 532 practitioners (16.7%) on the first survey and 87 of 535 (16.3%) clinicians on the second survey. Attitudes towards H/NP varied with gender, age, time in practice, and training. At baseline, before having an evidence-based resource available, nearly half the respondents indicated that they rarely or never ask about H/NP when taking a patient medication history. The majority of these respondents (81%) indicated that they would like to learn more about H/NP, but 72% admitted difficulty finding evidence-based information. After implementing the H/NP tool, 63% of database-user respondents indicated that they now ask patients about H/NP when taking a drug history. Compared to results from the baseline survey, respondents who used the database indicated that the tool significantly increased their ability to find reliable H/NP information (P < 0.0001), boosted their knowledge of H/NP (p < 0.0001), and increased their confidence in providing accurate H/NP answers to patients and colleagues (P < 0.0001).

Conclusions

Our results demonstrate healthcare provider knowledge and confidence with H/NP can be improved without costly and time-consuming formal H/NP curricula. Yet, it will be challenging to make providers aware of such resources.