WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – With growing research and clinical interest in using herbs and dietary supplements to treat patients, a new experimental on-line course is testing the best ways to teach doctors and other health professionals about their use.
The benefits and risks of more than 100 herbs and dietary supplements are the focus of the course, prepared by Kathi Kemper, M.D., M.P.H., of Wake Forest University School of Medicine and several colleagues and funded by a grant from the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.
The course is based on available scientific evidence and aims at providing physicians, physician assistants, nurses and other health professionals with the tools they need to counsel patients about herbs and dietary supplements, Kemper said.
The course also links participants to the latest evidence-based, internet information on herbs and dietary supplements and teaches them how to report adverse effects their patients encounter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Health workers want to know more about herbs and supplements,” Kemper said, adding that an American Academy of Pediatrics survey showed that 90 percent of pediatricians desire additional information. “It is popular in family medicine and internal medicine as well.”
More than 1,000 professionals enrolled in the course this past winter, under the aegis of the School of Medicine and Northwest Area Health Education Center of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, part of the North Carolina AHEC Program.
Kemper, who is the Caryl J. Guth Chair for Holistic and Integrative Medicine and professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at the School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, prepared the curriculum in conjunction with other members of the Longwood Herbal Task Force.
Kemper founded the Longwood Herbal Task Force in 1998 in conjunction with faculty, staff and students from Boston Children’s Hospital, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to learn more about and teach other clinicians about herbs and dietary supplements, used by about half the population.
Because oncology patients appeared to be the most frequent users of herbs and dietary supplements, the task force began with systematic reviews of the six most common supplements used by oncology patients.
Kemper and Paula M. Gardiner, M.D., a family physician who is on the faculties of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Tufts University School of Medicine, based the on-line curriculum on the results found by the Longwood Herbal Task Force.
The task force, in turn, based its work on seven databases, including the widely used MEDLINE, as well as other published research.
The on-line course includes 40 self-instruction modules about common clinical conditions in which patients might use herbs and supplements. It offers the opportunity to participate in an on-line discussion group, called a listserv. “I moderate the emails to make sure all comments are constructive and collaborative,” Kemper said.
In each module, up to 19 links are available to evidence-based information from academic centers and from the federal government.
Though registration for the course closed in February, and the materials began appearing online on Feb.15th, participants are still working their way through the modules. The entire course is supposed to take 12 weeks.
To determine which method worked better, participants were randomized to receive the modules either a little at a time or all at once. They were also randomized to receive the modules by email or to be directed to a website hosting the molecules. At the end, they will take an exam. Those who score 70 percent or higher are eligible to receive continuing education credit.
Northwest AHEC has been responsible for the logistics and support of the course, such as email marketing, registration, data collection and evaluation.
An earlier and smaller pilot version of the course, which had only 20 modules, was successfully tested by 537 health professionals, Kemper said.
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About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,298 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.