The Risks of Dealing with Supplements

By Augustine, Algis K. | Medical Economics, June 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Risks of Dealing with Supplements


Augustine, Algis K., Medical Economics


It is estimated that at least 6 out of every 10 Americans take supplements of some kind, which leads many doctors to consider selling supplements out of their own offices.

Yet the overwhelming majority of doctors know little about supplements or the risks, rules, and regulations that may apply when selling them from a medical practice. What's more, the American Medical Association opposes the sale of products from a physician's office on the basis that it is a conflict of interest and places undue influence on the patient.

But doctors arguably have a duty to have some knowledge about supplements and nutraceuticals, in order to provide complete care to their patients. The good news is that with this knowledge, the doctor may be able to better position herself in the treatment of the patient and be rewarded financially as well.

In many ways, it makes sense for patients to obtain supplements directly from their doctor, as the doctor is more likely to ask about other medications and supplements the patient is taking, and can guide the patient accordingly. Because many prescription and over-the-counter medications can interfere with the body's natural functioning, doctors are in a good position to guide patients in the use of nutrients to help restore those natural functions. For example, some practitioners believe that statins deplete coenzyme Q(IO), or that vitamin B supplements are useful for patients taking antidepressants. The doctor who has such supplements on hand can be more confident that her patient is following directions accurately.

If you decide to sell supplements or promote their use, it is crucial that you make no promises of a cure, guarantee a recovery, or even sug- gest increased longevity. It is wise to utilize an informed consent stating that no promises or guarantees have been made regarding supplements and that supplements never take the place of traditional medical care. The informed consent should also indicate, as applicable, that the efficacy and safety of the supplement or regimen suggested has not been proven, and that each patient reacts differently and may experience different side effects.

Supplements can legitimately be sold in a doctor's office in most states, with some risk, and if you decide to sell them, you must review the applicable laws, rules, and regulations in your location, and also check with your state and local medical boards and societies. …

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