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Survey Reveals Doctors Know Little about Herbal Medicine

According to the results of a survey published in April 2010, many medical professionals may know very little about herbal medicine.1 Although various types of healthcare professionals were sent the survey, the majority of respondents (76.7%) were practicing physicians and 88% were located in the United Kingdom. The survey was sent to 1,157 randomly queried Drug and Therapeutic Bulletin (DTB) subscribers, of which 164 (14%) responded.

Despite the small number of responders, the results of the survey have notable majorities: 71.8% indicated that the public has a misplaced faith in herbal medicines, 84.1% do not believe herbal medicine is well regulated, and 62.8% said they did not provide general herbal medicine information to their patients. Furthermore, 75.5% believe that doctors are poorly informed about herbal medicines; 46.6% admitted that they themselves were poorly informed about such therapies. Of the 21.3% who responded that they wouldn’t seek more information about an herbal medicine their patient was taking, 60% said they were unsure where to seek such information. Overall, 50% said they’d use Google or similar Internet tools if they were to seek such information.

“I would suggest that that’s a terrible source of information where herbal medicine is concerned,” said Michael McIntyre, chairman of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association and a member of the UK Department of Health Herbal Medicine Regulatory Working Group in a podcast released with the survey.2 “You could get terrible information, wrong information, and I certainly wouldn’t advise patients to do that so I wouldn’t advise doctors to do it either.”

Herbal medicine has an often confusing and conflicting online identity caused by unreliable sources posing as herbal authorities and the posting of unqualified misinformation to websites; therefore, one would need to consult a reliable herbal medicine source to get the correct information. However, this survey showed that many physicians in the United Kingdom didn’t seem to know where to go for such information.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) also recently commissioned a survey through Ipsos MORI to identify the UK public’s view on herbal medicines.3 This included opinions about safety and regulation as well as where the public obtained information on herbal medicines. According to this survey, 41% of the responding British adults believed doctors would be a good source of reliable herbal information while 23% thought the same for pharmacists. Also, 67% of respondents agreed that it is necessary to tell a general practitioner if one is taking herbal medicine.

According to the Ipsos MORI survey, most patients expect doctors to be well informed, said Linda Anderson, PhD, principal pharmaceutical assessor at the MHRA, in the podcast.2 “And I think they’d be pretty horrified if they thought the doctors were just relying on something on the Internet that wasn’t qualified.”

Likewise, in the United States, botanical experts have described the phytomedicinal education of medical professionals as “still woefully inadequate,” as Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, told The Tan Sheet.Blumenthal also pointed out that “the potential for potentially serious [herb-drug] interactions still exists, and all healthcare professionals, not just physicians, should be adequately trained on these potential interactions, as emerging scientific and clinical data reveal them.”

However, the results of the DTB survey seem to show overall that physicians, at least in the United Kingdom, have a “lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding” and “perhaps even more worryingly, an absence of interest” in herbal medicine, said DTB Editor Ike Iheanacho in the podcast.2

—Kelly E. Lindner


  1. Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB) Survey on Herbal Medicines. Drug Ther Bull. 2010;48(4):46–47.

  2. Herbal medicines – what do clinicians know [podcast]? London, England, UK: Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. April 8, 2010.

  3. Ipsos MORI report shows that 77% of adults agree that it is important that herbal medicines are regulated [press release]. London, England, UK: MHRA; January 12, 2009.

  4. Stevenson K. UK herbals survey points to importance of doctor education on supplements. The Tan Sheet. 2010;18(19):10–11.