Randomized Trial of an Internet Curriculum on Herbs and Other Dietary Supplements for Health Care Professionals

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Abstract

Purpose

Herbs and dietary supplements are widely used, and there is an urgent need to educate health professionals about their risks and benefits. The Internet provides an innovative way of educating busy health professionals. This study assessed the impact of an Internet-based curriculum on health professionals' knowledge, confidence, and clinical practices related to herbs and dietary supplements.

Method

The study was a randomized crossover trial involving physicians, pharmacists, advanced practice nurses, and dietitians. Participants were invited by e-mail and randomly assigned to immediate intervention versus waiting-list groups (n = 537). The curriculum lasted ten weeks and consisted of 20 case-based modules, each involving one multiple-choice or true-or-false question and its answer, links to reliable Internet sources of additional information, and a moderated listserv discussion group. Participants were surveyed about their knowledge, confidence, and communication related to herbs and dietary supplements on enrollment, after the immediate intervention group had completed the curriculum, and after the waiting-list group completed the curriculum.

Results

Baseline scores for knowledge, confidence, and communication were similar in the two groups. At the first follow-up, there was greater improvement in scores for all three areas in the immediate intervention group than in the waiting-list group (improvement for knowledge, 3.0 versus 1.4; confidence, 2.6 versus 0.6; communication, 0.21 versus −0.1, p < .01 for all comparisons). After all participants had received the curriculum, scores for both groups were significantly better than at baseline and similar to one another.

Conclusion

Internet-based education about herbs and dietary supplements for diverse health professionals is feasible and results in significant and sustained improvements in knowledge, confidence, and communication practices.

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