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Global Evolutions

Building a Bridge to Practitioners

Consumers like supplements, but they aren't willing to trust just anyone with their health plan. Increasingly, they are turning to their health care providers for advise on supplements. An August 2012 report found physician recommendations were the most important factor in the decision to take a supplement; people most rely on recommendations from their physician, (42 percent) research studies and articles (37 percent), recommendations from friends or family (16 percent), information from television or newspapers (4 percent), or recommendations from a vitamin store associate (2 percent).

But it's not just doctors who are influential. More health practitioners are also fighting for the right to consult patients on nutrition. In Illinois, the American Nutrition Association (ANA) is fighting for a new bill that will allow more health care providers, such as clinical nurse specialists (CNSs), critical care nurses (CCNs) and Diplomates of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition (DACBN) to give nutrition advise. Currently, only registered dietitians have this right. The bill (SB 2936) passed the Illinois House of Representatives on Nov. 29 and now awaits Illinois Governor Pat Quinns signature.

Judy Blatman, senior vice president, communications, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), noted doctors are extremely important, but industry shouldnt leave out other health care practitioners.  More people see nurse practitioners or physician assistants either before, or instead of, seeing a doctor, she said. "Often its the nurse practitioner who is having the substantive conversations about wellness and prevention, and thats where supplements fit in."

Pharmacists are important, too; Blatman noted consumers rank them second (right after doctors) as the most trusted source for information on dietary supplements. And the recent launch of the U.S. News and World Report database of pharmacist-recommended supplements shows pharmacists have opinions on supplements.

Don't for registered dietitians. Blatman said CRN's Lifesupplemented HealthCare Professionals Impact Study showed 96 percent of registered dietitians take dietary supplements, and 97 percent recommend them to their patients. "And we know registered dietitians are very vocal, regularly quoted by consumer press," she added.

It's in industry best interest to not let practitioners go ignorantor worse get incorrect information.  And, we should make this information easy for practitioners to get.  Doctors, nurses and other providers should be educated on the science of supplements, and should know how to identify quality supplements. This way, when their patients ask, they can be equipped with the proper information.

Package Facts recently noted industry should aim to bolster its image to health care practitioners who advise consumers by conducting research to support health claims. How do we do this?

"First, invest in the science," Blatman said. " Then find the right educational partners and invest in making education happen." Blatman suggested companies provide grants to educational institutions directly or partnering with a trade group who can pool many companies' resources together to donate larger grants.

These grants should support programs that focus on health conditions or topics, such as education programs generally look at topics or conditions, such as supplement/drug interaction or bone health, rather than individual products, Blatman said. 

One such event was the Natural Heath Research Institute's (NHRI) recent symposium on women's health and natural products, which offered educational credits to pharmacists, CNSs, nurses and chiropractors.

CRN is also reaching out to pharmacists and nurse practitioners via free webinars. On Dec. 10, CRN, in partnership with the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) offered a webinar on calcium and vitamin D.A year ago, CRN held a webinar on dietary supplement regulation for pharmacists. These webinars are part of CRNs on-going initiative through Pharmacist Society, a professional networking website sponsored by the Drug Store News Group.  

If your company hasn't yet worked to reach health care professionalsfrom doctors to nurses and pharmacistsit's about time you did. They are a major influence on your current and potential customers.

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