Ethics Marketing

Ethically Marketing Products to Clients

There’s a doctor I know of who, like most physicians, often refers his patients to specialists—RDs, certified diabetes educators, podiatrists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, etc. But there’s a caveat: This doctor only refers to specialists working outside of his office when he’s in a good financial position. In most cases, if his practice doesn’t offer a service, he doesn’t refer his patients to that type of provider—not an ethical way to work.

Today, many health care providers are having financial difficulties, some even being forced to sell their practices to larger organizations and hospitals. Few providers are as profitable as they once were years ago. Low insurance payouts make it difficult for any medical provider to earn what they’re worth, and RDs are no exception. For many, it’s necessary to find alternative ways to bring in earnings.

Since people generally trust the products their health providers recommend, it’s extremely important that these recommendations don’t cross the line between medical and ethical practices.


Before selling a product to a patient, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this product truly in my patients’ best interest?
  2. Would I recommend and promote this product if I wasn’t making money on it?
  3. Is this product available at locations outside my office?
  4. Am I providing transparency with this product, disclosing all the pros and cons?
  5. Can my patients afford this product?

If you answered yes to these questions, it’s probably ethical to offer the product in question to your patients. If you answered no to any of these, it’s best to look for better ways to offer products.

  • Make sure you only suggest products specific to each patient’s needs and that you can offer them a variety of choices. No one size fits all.
  • Don’t recommend products just because you sell them. There are many products available that you can make money on while feeling good about offering them. These may include relaxation and exercise tapes, stretch bands, motivational cards or booklets, supplements or probiotics, healthful recipe cards, and more.
  • Never make someone feel pressured to buy something that’s only available at your office—it reduces trust. Try this approach for products you like: suggest a product that’s available at your office, from a distributor you work with, and from another outside source. Giving clients options on where they can buy products increases trust, and in most cases they will buy it from you.
  • When it comes to transparency, think of the jokes about a used car salesperson: They only say great things about the car, and every car they sell is perfect. Always share the pros and cons of any product you’re selling to give patients the opportunity to make the best decision for themselves.
  • Never try to sell products that patients can’t afford unless they really need it. In these cases, the only ethical thing to do is to figure out a way to make the product more affordable.

It’s important to develop strategies to make your practice successful. But before you sell anything, ask yourself one final question: Is there any reason I feel uncomfortable about selling this product? If the answer is yes, reconsider—if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

— Marlisa Brown, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, is an award-winning dietitian, chef, and public speaker. She’s president of Total Wellness, a private nutrition consulting company specializing in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, gluten-free diets, culinary programs, corporate wellness, and medical nutrition therapies, in Bayshore, New York, and is author of Gluten-Free Hassle-Free and Easy Gluten-Free. Marlisa blogs at and

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