Ask carefully to get thorough information from patients

There’s a balance when asking about supplements

The last thing you want to do when you inquire about your patients’ use of herbals, vitamins, or dietary supplements is to ask in a manner that will make them think you don’t approve of their use, says Dennis Callahan RPh, staff pharmacist at St. Mary’s Health Center Pharmacy in Jefferson City, MO.

Be sure that you don’t act negatively when patients say they are using herbals, vitamins, or supplements, Callahan says. "We need to recognize the patients’ right to take responsibility for their care, but we also need to explain the importance of working together to make sure one thing doesn’t cancel the effect of something else," he says.

One good way to find out what patients are using is to ask a series of questions that focus on symptoms or conditions rather than specific medication use, suggests Maria R. Toscano, PharmD, consultant with ProMedcare Solutions in Mineola, NY.

The types of questions might include:

  • What do you use to treat constipation?
  • How do you treat an upset stomach?
  • Are you taking any vitamins? Why?
  • What do you take for pain?

As you get answers to each of these questions, be sure to ask about prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and herbals or vitamins, Toscano suggests. By making it clear that you are trying to get an accurate overall picture rather than pointing out what might be right or wrong, you’ll get truthful answers that will help you help your patients, she says.