Originally designed for retail employees, the web-based Herbal Information Course (HIC) developed by ABC and the National Training Institute (NTI) is catching on in unexpected areas. Interest is growing among conventional practitioners who need to answer questions about herbs. Supplement companies want to make sure their employees are up-to-speed on herb basics. Consequently, a growing number of people need to know what should be communicated regarding the use and safety of popular herbs and how to avoid making unsupportable claims about their potential benefits.
Launched in January 2004, the online course was redesigned in April to make the registration, payment, and navigation features more user-friendly (www.herbtraining.com). From January to March, more than 400 people registered for the 4 to 5 hour online course, which provides an overview of herbal medicine and basic information on 29 leading herbs.
Initial feedback from those who have completed the course has been positive. Many independent health food retailers have registered, and some have remarked that they appreciate the easy access to educational materials that fit the needs of their staff. A retail chain of 19 stores purchased a block of courses and encouraged its employees to use the course to upgrade their training. A larger retail chain, comprised of franchisees and licensees, incorporated the course into its overall training program for store owners. Representatives of the chain stated that ABC’s course is a critical component of their overall training. Also, some leading multilevel marketing companies are investigating using the course as a way to upgrade the knowledge base of their independent distributors.
After completing Part 1 of the HIC, the Herbal Information Specialist candidate should be able to: • Interpret information on product labels and demonstrate to customers how to interpret the information provided; • Distinguish between the kinds of claims and explain the use of structure/function claims on herbal products; • Evaluate clinical research and explain how to apply this information in an appropriate manner for consumers; • Explain basic concepts of standardization, safety, and regulation for herbs; • Guide consumers in finding further information on herbal medicine.
Part 1 provides an overview of herbal medicine with information about consumer use, herb safety, standardization, legal and regulatory status of herbs and phytomedicines in the U.S., and communicating with customers. In the section on communicating with customers, the course emphasizes that information in a retail setting should not be provided in a way that could be construed as medical advice. Suggestions are provided to demonstrate the delicate manner in which the information needs to be delivered.
Part 2 of the Herbal Information Course covers basic information on 29 of the most popular herbs. An important focus of this information is the numerous clinical studies that have been conducted on each herb and the results of those studies. The purpose of this section is to provide a review of key information with which the candidate should become familiar regarding important aspects of the herbs. Herbal Information Specialists should be able to use information from the literature and clinical studies to assist customers in making purchase decisions.
The web-based course allows candidates to print the HIC information so it can be retained for later reference. A popular feature of Part 2 is the availability of one-page information sheets for each of the 29 herbs, which can be photocopied and distributed as customer or patient handouts.
Each section of the course is followed by a test which requires 80% accuracy or higher to pass. Both sections must be satisfactorily completed in order to receive the Herbal Information Specialist certificate. Additionally, successful candidates may request a decal that states, “Herbal Information Specialist Onsite,” which can be placed in store windows. After one year, the certificate can be renewed by completing a revised online course module, consisting of updated information on the concepts and herbs already provided in the earlier module, along with new information on the herbs to further expand the Specialist’s knowledge base. Herbal Information Specialists are encouraged to let their customers know they are available to answer questions in order to facilitate informed consumer decisions. The course also stresses that Specialists should let customers know that their assistance is not intended to replace the expertise of a licensed healthcare practitioner.
The cost of HIC to individuals is $69.95, which includes Parts 1 & 2 , certificate, and decal. Discounts are available for companies wanting to train multiple employees. For more information, contact ABC at 800-373-7105 or NTI at 800-529-1101. Or register online at <www.herbtraining.com>.
—Wayne Silverman, PhD