Patients infrequently disclose use of dietary supplements to providers. Little is known about factors that motivate patients to disclose supplement use. The study aimed to identify reported factors motivating patients’ disclosure and nondisclosure of dietary supplement use and explore differences based on type of supplement and provider practice.
Mixed methods study combining qualitative content analysis of semi-structured interviews with statistical analyses to assess differences in identified factors by provider practice type and supplement type. Seventy-eight English-speaking patients who reported taking 466 dietary supplements in the previous 30 days were recruited from primary care and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), and Integrative Medicine (IM) offices in Southern California.
We identified nine themes related to disclosure and nine related to nondisclosure of dietary supplement use. Major themes were features of the office visit, circumstances in patient health and medical care, and provider/patient characteristics. The most commonly raised theme promoting disclosure of supplement use was provider inquiry. Patients associate disclosure with having concerns about a supplement but also with annual physical exams and some routine topics of discussion, including self-care, lab results, and new medication prescriptions. Themes related to nondisclosure included lack of provider inquiry, features of the office visit, such as supplements being unrelated to the visit purpose, and patients’ convictions that supplements are safe or not important to discuss. Themes did not vary by supplement type. Primary care patients were more likely than CAM/IM patients to attribute nondisclosure to convictions that supplements were beneficial, not worth mentioning, or equivalent to food (p ≤ 0.001).
When providers fail to ask directly about dietary supplement use, disclosure is often an impromptu decision that is driven by the content of provider-patient interactions. Ensuring disclosure of dietary supplement use to prevent potential drug-supplement interactions or adverse health outcomes likely requires consistent, proactive provider queries about supplement use.