Complementary Medicines: Information Use and Needs of Health Professionals

Complementary medicines are also known as traditional, natural or alternative medicines and include herbal medicines, vitamin and mineral supplements, other nutritional supplements, traditional medicines such as Ayurvedic medicines and traditional Chinese medicines and homoeopathic medicines.

Background

This study is part of the NPS complementary medicine research program. For more information about the background and other components of this program click here.

Aim

The aim of this research was to provide a better understanding of current Australian general practitioners' and pharmacists' attitudes to complementary medicines, and their information needs and preferences. The research investigated:

  • these health professionals’ knowledge and attitudes regarding complementary medicines,
  • how they currently seek and assess the quality of information about complementary medicines, and
  • their preferences for future complementary medicines information content.

Design / methods

This research took a multi-method approach, including national cross-sectional postal surveys to GPs and pharmacists and 12 focus groups. 1178 GPs and the 265 community pharmacists participated in the surveys. Six semi-structured focus groups were held with 48 GPs and another six with 63 community pharmacists.

Summary of results

  • About 90% of GPs and almost all community pharmacists had recommended at least one complementary medicine in the last 12 months. More than three-quarters of GPs and community pharmacists had recommended vitamins, minerals, fish oil and glucosamine
  • Only about half of the surveyed GPs incorporated questioning about complementary medicines use always or often when taking a medication history for a new patient
  • Around 40% of GPs and community pharmacists felt they were confident discussing complementary medicines with patients
  • Many GPs and pharmacists were not aware of the side effects of some commonly used complementary medicines and their potential interactions with conventional medicines. Only 38% of GPs and 44% of community pharmacists were aware that black cohosh has been linked to liver damage
  • GPs and pharmacists drew their information on complementary medicines from a range of sources, with a number of these sources perceived as being of little use
  • GPs and pharmacists described a need for future resources to be quickly accessible, brief, credible in authorship and regularly updated
  • GPs and pharmacists had a wide range of preferences for how information about complementary medicines could be provided during a consultation with a patient and as part of their professional development.

Publications

Download the full report

  • Pirotta M, Kotsirilos V, Brown J, Adams J, Morgan T, Williamson M. Complementary medicine in general practice: A national survey of GP attitudes and knowledge. Australian Family Physician 2010;39(12):946-950. (Full Text)
  • Brown J, Roufogalis B, Williamson, M. Complementary medicines: Hospital pharmacists' attitude, knowledge and information seeking behaviour. Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research 2009; 39(4):281-285.

 Results presented at conferences:

  • Brown J, Morgan T, Williamson M, Roufogalis B, Pirotta M, Kotsirilos V. Complementary medicines information needs and preferences of community pharmacists. Pharmacy Congress 2010 (Poster)
  • Morgan T, Adams J, Brown J, Grunseit A, Williamson M. Interacting with complementary medicines: challenging and expanding general practitioner’s professional role, National Medicine Symposium, 26-28 May 2010, Melbourne, Australia (Poster)
  • Pirotta M, Kotsirilos V, Brown J, Adams J, Morgan T,  Williamson M. Integrative Medicine: Results from a National Survey of Family Doctors’ Attitudes and Knowledge about Complementary Medicine. IN-CAM 2010, Vancouver Canada, 2010
  • Brown J, Williamson M, Toms M, Pirotta M. Information needs and preferences of general practitioners on complementary medicines. National Medicines Symposium, 14-16 May 2008, Canberra, Australia. (Poster)
  • Brown J, Williamson M, Toms M, Pirotta M. Information needs and preferences of General Practitioners on complementary medicines. General Practice and Primary Health Care Research Conference. 4-6 June 2008. Hobart, Australia (Poster)
  • Brown J, Williamson M, Toms M, Pirotta M, Kotsirilos V, Roufogalis B. Information needs and preferences of general practitioners on complementary medicines. WONCA Asia Pacific Regional Conference/Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Annual Scientific Convention, 2–5 October, 2008 Melbourne, Australia.
  • Brown J, Williamson M, Toms M, Roufogalis B, Pirotta M, Kotsirilos V. Information needs and preferences of pharmacists on complementary medicines. Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia National Conference, 4–7 September 2008.

Implications

This research identified a number of gaps in the quality use of complementary medicines which need to be considered. The research showed that many GPs and pharmacists:

  • Did not always discuss the use of complementary medicines with their patients and were often unaware of complementary medicines use by their patients
  • Often looked for information on the safety and benefits of complementary medicines, but were often not satisfied with the information they found
  • Wanted to learn more about complementary medicines
  • Were not aware of many independent reliable sources of information on complementary medicines
  • Were not aware of the side effects of some commonly used complementary medicines and their potential interactions with conventional medicines
  • Were not confident in discussing complementary medicines with their patients.

Related information and links

  • MedlinePlus: Herbs and Supplements.(Link) A free source of information about the effectiveness, usual dosage, and drug interactions of dietary supplements and herbal remedies.
  • NPS information about complementary medicines (Link)
  • About the NPS complementary medicine research program (Link)
  • About NPS complementary medicine research with consumers (Link)
  • About the NPS review of complementary medicine resources (Link)

Errata

This page contains the most up-to-date version of the report with integrated errata. Errata are also available for separate download.