What to Do if Your Doctor Promotes Multi-Level Marketing

“You should really try it,” Jen’s friend was saying.

“I’ve been going to this medical practice for a year, and my pain is completely gone!” 

Jen was curious about this local doctor whose unconventional techniques produced amazing results. 

What do I have to lose? Jen thought to herself. 

She looked up the practice online and saw the doctor’s bio, list of services, and 5-star patient reviews. A page called “Nutrition” revealed pictures of vitamin bottles surrounded by colorful vegetables. She clicked on a 5-minute promotional video and listened as an enthusiastic product representative explained the benefits of adding vitamins to your diet.

Jen was surprised. Her previous doctors had never talked about supplements, but she was intrigued about her friend’s rave review. So she decided to call the practice and set up an initial appointment for the following week. 

Once the appointment was confirmed, she received an e-mail with instructions to fill out paperwork online. Several of the questions were about her intake of vitamins and herbs. 

That’s nice of them to ask, she thought. I’m not sure why that has anything to do with getting rid of my back pain… guess I’ll find out.

—–

At the doctor’s office, Jen saw big posters of the supplements from the doctor’s website. She noticed a stack of product brochures at the check-in desk. A friendly staff member greeted her, and she sat down next to magazines about health and nutrition.

Minutes later, a nurse called Jen’s name, checked her vital signs, and escorted her to an exam room. The doctor soon walked in.

Jen’s visit went well. She explained her symptoms, her health history, and therapy she had already tried. The doctor performed a physical exam and recommended tests and treatment methods to help reduce her pain. 

Then the conversation turned to her diet. 

“I see that you’re not taking any supplements right now,” said the doctor. “Studies have shown that a customized nutritional approach can reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of a variety of diseases. Would you like us to do a nutritional assessment for you today?”

Jen felt obligated to say yes. She hadn’t thought about the need to take vitamins; but since the doctor was strongly advising it, she agreed.

The doctor continued. “After we do the free assessment, any deficiencies can be fixed with a special blend of nutraceuticals that we make available to our patients. In fact, all of my staff members take these products, and so does my entire family. We really believe it’s the best option out there—although of course, you can use any supplements you want. My assistant will get you set up.” 

With that, the doctor exited and was replaced by a nursing assistant, who reviewed Jen’s dietary habits and gave her a paper with a list of products she could buy to “reverse the damage” and improve her gut health.

“If you’re ready to start today, the combo pack is available at a 10% discount. Or you can sign up with our network, which lets you have the starter pack for free with your purchase, as well as a 30% discount on future products.” 

Jen considered her options, handed her credit card to the front desk staff, and walked back to her car with a bag of vitamin bottles.

Back at home, Jen made a cup of tea and sat down at her kitchen table. She pulled a variety of bottles and powders out of the bag. As she reviewed the glossy handouts, Jen tried to rationalize the expense. Today’s visit was covered by insurance, but the extra $499 she had spent on supplements was out of pocket. Jen felt cautiously optimistic about the potential for these products to improve her health, but she was also nervous about how to pay $199 for a new supply every month. 

They told me that if I get my family and friends to buy, I can earn my supplements for free, Jen recalled. 

She decided to call her sister and mother and convince them to sign up too. They could all get healthy together, Jen would be able to afford the products, and she may even be able to convince them to recruit others into her network.

I’m so glad I found this doctor, thought Jen as she swallowed the first dose of supplements.

— 

Jen’s experience is, unfortunately, very common in the healthcare field. She had unknowingly been persuaded to join a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) network—a business model that requires both purchasing products and recruiting others to join in your “downline.” The MLM model (also known as direct sales) is used by hundreds of companies, and is estimated to be worth at $35.4 billion in the USA across all categories. The total health supplement market (not MLMs specifically) is expected to generate $278 billion in worldwide sales by 2024 [source: PRNewsWire]. The vast majority of MLMs are in the Health & Wellness field (read more: What’s the Difference Between Brick-and-Mortar, Franchise, Direct Sales, and MLM?)

Although healthcare providers have a professional obligation to look out for their patients’ best interests, they often struggle with burnout and keeping their practice profitable. The quest to find new sources of revenue puts doctors at risk of being targeted by MLMs, which promise unlimited residual income through the sale of “natural” and “safe” products.

Unfortunately, the sale of products in a physician’s office—especially nutritional supplements—violates the ethical standardsof several professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Australian Medical Association. This is because the sale of supplements can cause physicians to:

  • exploit patients for financial gain
  • use products of unproven scientific validity, and 
  • have an inappropriate bias in recommending a particular product, even if it’s not necessary for that patient’s health condition.

[source: Ethical Standards on the Sale of Products in Healthcare]

In Jen’s story (which is fictional but based on real experiences), she was presented with products at several points in her visit: online, on posters & brochures, and in person. 

She said she felt obligated to agree to a nutritional evaluation and agreed to purchase the products only because the doctor strongly advised that she do so

Based on this patient-provider trust, Jen joined a sales network and spent hundreds of dollars on products. 

She decided to convince her family members into signing up, in order to ease her monthly burden of buying the expensive—but in her mind, necessary—supplements.

When a healthcare practitioner focuses on “profit before patients,” this puts people like Jen at risk.

What You Can Do as a Patient

If you know of a physician who sells and promotes products through a multi-level marketing or direct sales model, here are some ways you can respond:

1. Confront your doctor.

No patient should feel uncomfortable about their healthcare experience. You have every right express your concerns about the in-office sale of products by telling your physician directly. If you prefer a less direct approach, you could write a letter or e-mail, or send a message through the practice’s secure patient portal.

2. Communicate anonymously.

Maybe you feel concerned but don’t want to put yourself in an adversarial position. If so, you have the option to send a message anonymously by using the practice’s anonymous tip line or leaving feedback on a card in the office. Another option is to write an anonymous letter to the doctor, explaining your concerns about their conflict of interest.

3. Find another doctor.

Except in rare cases, you are under no obligation to continue seeing a physician with whom you feel uncomfortable. When a doctor is not serving your best interests, it might be time to find a different practice. There are many ethical physicians to choose from (check out this video by Dr. Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at NYU Langone Health; MedScape login required).

4. Rate on social media.

Online ratings can be a good way to get a physician’s attention if other methods don’t work. You can share your experience on social media or a health rating tool like HealthGrades or Yelp, which will alert other potential patients to the practitioner’s unethical actions.

5. File a BBB complaint.

Another option is to fill out a Better Business Bureau complaint or report a scam—or use an equivalent tool for your country. Check out this list of 14 business rating websites.

6. Report a violation.

Physicians who sell and recruit patients into an MLM are violating several code of ethics standards according to many associations around the world (you can see them here). If you believe a medical professional is behaving unethically or failing to provide a standard of care to patients, the best way to respond is to report their behavior to the local medical licensing board. 

7. Contact your local news.

When all else fails, a final way to raise the alarm about a physician’s unethical behavior is to contact the media. It might interest them to know that:

The bottom line is that practitioners who provide ethical treatment to their patients don’t need to resort to selling products, especially through multi-level marketing. And as a patient, your opinion can make a big difference when you encourage your doctor to make ethical, patient-focused business choices.

Grace LaConte, MS, RHIA 

Founder of LaConte Consulting

Why at the FindYourFlex Group we don’t support MLMs

Our Stand Against (MLMs) Multi Level Marketing Schemes.

One of the last times I saw my university lecturer we were talking about what my plans were for the future. I outlined a strict timetable that included having a part time job, writing at the weekends and evenings, and somehow having a couple of kids who would slot neatly into this lifestyle. My lecturer tried to gently point out that this may be a hard schedule to stick to, at which I bristled. In my head, I told him that he was wrong, that I would manage. It wouldn’t be too much. I would it make it work.

After two babies, one broken-down house that we bought just before the housing crash and a now ex-partner with mental health problems, I realised what my lecturer was trying to tell me. Children are hard work. Life often gets much harder after having them. Don’t get me wrong, some people can manage to do everything they want, but I believe a great deal more struggle. Especially if you have added pressures: you are a single parent, you care for someone else with mental or physical difficulties, or you have your own ill health to cope with. And especially if you are also looking for a job.

This still is mostly true for women, as working mothers tend to end up being overworked and underpaid, often leaving full-time roles and taking on part-time work to cope with all of the roles they have to fulfil. On top of this, part-time, home-based or flexible work has an image problem it being seen as the ‘soft option’ and can make some feel like they have lost their status at work.

Head over to FindYourFlex / MummyJobs to read the rest of Kizzy Hamilton’s article!

9 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Join an MLM

The Perils of Working Under a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme.

  1. You are statistically more likely to lose money when working under a MLMS, not make it. The numbers I have looked at say that it’s 90% plus.
  2. In fact, you are slightly better off being a professional gambler.
  3. Because they want you to sell more, to disguise the fact that you are more than likely making nothing for yourself, there is often a pseudo self-help /motivation quality to the companies to keep you involved. Very often they conveniently counsel you to ignore ‘negative people’ or ‘haters’, just in case anybody close to you has any awkward questions, like ‘Are you making any money?’ [Many people] leave these companies and compare it to leaving a cult.

Head over to the Find Your Flex website to read Kizzy Hamilton’s full article!

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Closing a Chapter, Part 4

Coalition: Linda concludes her experience with MLM, in this final part. Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here, if you haven’t already.

Linda: The only good to come out of this situation is the lesson I have learned. I left a job which made me unhappy and I also have my website, which I changed from being a Company X product promotion site to my own personal blog, and I also post about skincare products I love to use and review.

As posted in my previous blog, I went away to Barcelona on my own, for the very first time, which was a real experience and it taught me a lot about myself. My trust issues are a little low … however I guess someday I will be able to let my guard down a little. Yes, I feel foolish, used, and betrayed and I am mostly angry at myself for falling for it. I keep telling myself that Danni is in the same situation — sadly she has been promoting and recruiting for Company X for over four years now and, in my opinion, is just too brainwashed now to ever leave. However, despite everything that has happened, I do genuinely wish her all the best. If she does succeed, then good luck to her. I hope she doesn’t financially break too many people below her while she climbs up the ladder. I have also since learned that other girls have stopped promoting for Company X, no doubt realising too, just what a con it is.

I think most of the girls cling onto the hope of becoming the next big thing — the same (always the same) girls they see paraded in front of them at the Success Summits or perhaps if they stop, they think they are quitting on their dream.

They fall in so deep and invest some much, not just time or money, that they feel that perhaps they can’t back away, which is actually quite tragic.

If I were to start my own business, then it will be off of my own back. Where I will earn 100% of the profits not just a small commission. I mean seriously, if you purchase stock from a company and you are only earning a commission, this does not make you a business owner. Nor does it make up a business owner when you have absolutely no say in how the business that you buy the products from runs its business. You are totally beholden to them. You are simply a sales rep, there if nothing wrong in this, however that is what you are. You recruit, you sell and you promote for Company X — that’s it. Company X cleverly gets around not actually paying you properly by presenting this as you being your own boss, which I guess is more appealing. And another thing, just because you recruit some poor soul in another country — this does not make you a “Global Business Owner”.

I am not a quitter. I didn’t quit on myself. I trusted my gut instinct. I realised that something wasn’t suited to me and wasn’t making me happy therefore I stopped. I don’t think I have given up on my dream at all. If anything, I am actually pursuing mine. I am content with being back to myself again, not a Company X Clone. I have deleted every post linked to the MLM company and the whole “positive, don’t be a quitter mindset” waffle. Please don’t misunderstand me, positivity is great … but in MLM, it’s jammed down your throat which just becomes too forced. I like that I can talk to people now without looking at them as my next customer or recruit. I feel free from all the pinging messages from the never-ending groups I had to be part of. Free of the constant social media posts and training. I am in the process of looking for a job, something that will make me happy. Despite what the MLM reps say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with earning an honest living working for someone else or not being your own boss. My life is finally my own again and I am truly happy.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Again, I wasn’t sure I was making the right decision in posting this, however I feel that more people need to speak up about their individual experiences. People shouldn’t feel bullied or afraid. If you are thinking of joining an MLM and would like to message me personally for more information about my own personal experience, please feel free do to so.


Cover photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

Closing a Chapter, Part 3

Coalition: Here is Part 3 of Linda’s recent experience with a personal care MLM. We’re putting it up in four parts over the next week or so, but you can head over to her blog if you want to read all of it right away! To read how her story started, catch up with Part 1 and Part 2 here. And now, on with Linda’s story:

Linda: By April 2019 I was starting to have serious doubts about what I was doing, however was in conflict about not wanting to damage my relationship with Danni and my cousin and in the back of my mind engrained was the message of positivity and not quitting. I had already committed to a “Product Showcase” event at my home and after having purchased quite a lot of products to showcase (I’m sure, much to my upline, Danni’s delight, seeing as she received a commission) I went ahead with it. Some family and a few people I knew came along, again; I am sure it was out of pity. I made one sale; it was embarrassing. However; I tried to stay positive, constantly keeping my posts attractive and appealing, it was all about “attraction marketing” slightly embellishing the truth, making your life look amazing and fun. You were your own boss: you called the shots!

Ellie Flynn from the BBC documentary Secrets of the Multi-Level Millionaires

On the same day as my showcase party, after it had finished, I watched a documentary which was aired on the BBC about MLMs, and Company X was featured. Danni was still at my place; it was just her, me and my husband and she insisted on staying to watch it also (no doubt to make sure I wasn’t turned against the company). I would like to add also that when I had asked Danni about the documentary a few days before, she said that head office had advised us all not to watch it. It was just “haters” spreading negativity and it was best to be avoided. I am so glad I watched the documentary; it completely opened my eyes and throughout the whole thing I had a feeling of sickness in my stomach which I didn’t let on to Danni. I was poorly the week that followed (my body had no doubt crashed into some sort of panic!) and I spent most of the week online reading about MLM scamming website and the tricks used by reps on social media. I feel slightly sick at myself for posting so many “positivity quotes” which, again, I was posting as a form of Positive Mindset (I deleted them all). I attended a product showcase with Danni on the Wednesday that week, still feeling unwell and uneasy, and the only real reason I went in all honesty, was to hopefully shift some of the products I had from my home showcase. I didn’t sell a thing and it was a complete waste of my time. Surprise surprise …

Deep down I knew I didn’t want to collaborate with Company X anymore. It just wasn’t me. It felt so desperate, the posts I kept on seeing online from some of the girls in our never-ending groups felt so false and forced. People where discounting items and running “Payday Offers” (which I am again ashamed to say I did too — out of desperation to sell something!) on products I was led to believe were high end! I also discovered that products were being sold on Ebay and Amazon too — which I thought wasn’t allowed??! I also discovered online that there were other MLM companies were the uplines who were higher up in the pyramid were part of private social media groups where they shared (in absolute secrecy) tips and tricks on how to dupe their downlines. Honestly it makes me sick to the core how deep the deception runs. I couldn’t trust Danni anymore, I didn’t know what to think, was she part of one of these groups too?? I didn’t know what to believe or who to trust.

I took part in one final group Zoom call which was hyped up to be this amazing way to boost sales and climb the pin title (awards you receive based on sales and how many people you recruit) ladder. We were advised to bulk buy items. We were told about this “great idea” where we should buy sixteen toothpastes at approximately £8 each wholesale, keep one to use and to promote on social media, and sell the other 15… I mean, there was no way on God’s green earth that I would ever sell these, I wasn’t selling anything, let alone 15 toothpastes at over £11, this would cost me over £125! We were also advised to do the same the following month with another product and so on, and that our downlines (these are the people who are signed up under you) should do the same. I can imagine the uplines at the top of the pyramid rubbing their hands in delight. This was the absolute final straw. I had made up my mind to tell Danni the next day I wasn’t doing this anymore.

It wasn’t so much a light bulb moment, more a baseball bat across the face moment where I realised this was all just one big fat con! I had been well and truly scammed. When I broke the news to Danni that I no longer wanted to carry on with Company X and that I was terminating my account, she actually cried. I reassured her that nothing would change between us, we would still be friends (despite the fact that I was actually seething inside) and we were booked to go on another “Success Summit” to Spain in May, that I would still go, however I wouldn’t attend the summit, I would simply come away on a little holiday to keep her company, this was what I was willing to do, despite everything! I tried to be civil and friendly, despite the fact that I had been totally duped by her and everyone else, I didn’t want to cause friction in the family and cause pain to my cousin and his wife, who are nice people.

Let’s just say that Danni didn’t take my leaving Company X well, there was a monumental shift in her behaviour toward me… she told me it was never about the money and that I meant more to her than Company X however you could tell she had changed. She went from messaging me daily, without fail, asking me how I was, how my day had been etc, to not messaging me, unless I messaged her first and even then, her reply which was usually instant was delayed by hours, if not a full day. I invited her to mine for a tea and chat in order to finalise the Spain trip. She kindly arranged for my Success Summit ticket to be sold on Facebook, which I am grateful for. However eventually things got out of hand and without going into too much detail I saw her true colours, especially where money was concerned. I cancelled my trip with her completely and managed to change my holiday to go to Barcelona on my own. I have blocked her on my social media nor do I follow any of the other so-called Company X “friends”. Luckily my Success Summit ticket sold. I managed to return a large amount of the products back to Company X for a refund and I have now cancelled my wholesale account. I ran at a loss; however, I was lucky enough to claw back most of what I had spent.

Despite what people say MLM companies ruin relationships. I have read countless blogs about people who have lost friends, spilt from partners and damaged relationships with family members. Due to this, Danni and I no longer talk, and through this I haven’t spoken to my cousin or his wife. I am truly grateful that I was only part of this embarrassing episode for little over three months and that I didn’t fall out with my true friends and family. My husband stuck by my side throughout the whole thing, despite his doubts, however he knew how MLMs function in that they turn people against their partners for not being supportive and to risk not losing me, he simply supported me. However, when I told him I was stopping, even he breathed a sigh of relief. I truly believe that some sort of brainwashing is involved. You are told to surround yourself with like-minded people, get rid of anyone who isn’t supportive of what you are doing. It reaches a point, especially if you have been working for an MLM for perhaps as long as Danni has that you have pretty much crippled every relationship you have with others, to the point where your only friends are Company X people, therefore you feel that if you leave, you’ll have no one, that you have quit on your dreams. Therefore, people just keep going, they cling onto the “dream” paraded in front of them on social media. No one questions anything, no one asks questions — I think I was the only one that did and I guess I am now a “Dream Stealer” or “Negative Nancy”. You can’t simply be someone who sees it for what it is and cleverly decides to avoid it like the plague. If I had really known what MLM’s and pyramid schemes were — I too would have said no at the very beginning.


Stay tuned for Linda’s final instalment, Part 4!

Cover photo Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash