The Burgeoning Supplement Pie

Dec 08, 2016 at 11:02 pm by Staff

By Lynn G. Sheffield

A popular question posed to elementary school children - "What do you want to be when you grow up?" - finds many children drawn to the noble profession of being a doctor. I once asked one of the students why she wanted to grow up and be a doctor. The little girl looked up at me with bright, enthusiastic eyes and without hesitation said, "Because a doctor helps people who are sick."

This desire to heal and to help people who are sick continues to be the central driving force for many of our young physicians entering the field today. In fact, the Greek Hippocratic oath held sacred by many physicians remains a "rite of passage" at many medical school graduation ceremonies. The line often heard quoted on television, "I will prescribe treatments for the benefit of my patients to the best of my ability and judgment and to never do harm."

Unfortunately, the idealistic mind's eye of being a doctor does not always match the reality of being one. Besides the countless hours of study and apprenticeship, the years of sacrifice and sleep deprivation, and the ever-expanding patient load, the true mine field for today's physicians to navigate are rising operating costs and shrinking profit margins. And like other entrepreneurs, there is a limit to how many patients that can be seen or hours a physician can work to increase the bottom-line.

Thanks to the soaring Health and Wellness boom, a viable secondary income stream for physicians has emerged. The Council for Responsible Nutrition reported in their October 2013 survey that 68 percent of U.S. adults take supplements, including over 50 percent who report being regular users. And the December 2013 Gallup poll concurred, reporting that half of Americans regularly take a multivitamin or other types of vitamins or mineral supplements.

This focus on health and nutrition has created a robust growth sector. The sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements in the United States has burgeoned from $26.7 billion in 2009 to roughly $36.7 billion today to over a projected $40 billion in 2017. Incidentally, the global market is valued at over $100 billion. And physicians are well positioned to cash in on this booming market.

There are several key advantages many physicians possess over large retailers. The first being trust. Inherently, people trust their doctor and the "prescribed treatments for the benefit of the patient," and sound, preventative regimens are no different. And let us not forget the cultivation of the doctor-patient relationship over many months or years. Genuine caring is an essential element of being a trusted physician.

The second key advantage that physicians possess is the customization for the patient of his/her nutritional supplements that support and complement the doctor's recommended treatment regimen for the patient's current condition. The physician can prescribe specific, quality supplements to enhance treatment versus the typical one vitamin fits all mentality.

The third key advantage is the leveraging of the existing patient base. Most physicians already possess a warm market of potential customers that could benefit from improved nutrition and a customized supplement regimen. It has been well documented that approximately seventy-five (75) percent of healthcare spending in the United States is largely for preventable chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and nutritional supplementation can play a pivotal role with other measures to reduce the risk factors that lead to chronic diseases.

The fourth key advantage is the doctor's office itself, specifically the patient enrollment questionnaire and the office staff. The office staff can collect important information on current medications being taken, including vitamins or other nutritional supplements, or their absence, using the patient questionnaire. Also, due to the meteoric growth of the supplement industry, the industry's business systems have matured and vastly improved, enabling office staff to manage patient-specific purchases online and for the staff to participate in the office revenues without impacting the physician's bottom-line.

However, as in all things, there is a caveat, "What brand of supplements to recommend?" Unfortunately, not all supplements are created equal. Literally, there is a plethora of brands and claims in the marketplace; and sadly, some provide little to no nutritional value. But the potential rewards for the patient makes the educational effort of understanding how the best supplements can support and enhance a physician's overall treatment regimen worthwhile. In fact, supplements could provide both a competitive advantage and contribute to the practice's full-service reputation.

The critical, first step is finding quality nutritional supplements that a physician can trust, complement treatment regimens and recommend to patients. In my next installment, I will discuss some common differences among supplement brands, followed by what questions to ask in the selection of supplements for a physician practice.