Conflict of Interest: Medical Ethics and Mary Kay Cosmetics

Written by Lazy Gardens

More on Dr. Mark Barlow’s promotion of Mary Kay products in his medical practice, and the potential conflict of interest with his wife as a Mary Kay sales director…

When I read the “Letter from Dr. Barlow” that was posted on NSD Cindy Williams’ website, a few sentences caught my attention, and not only because they sounded more like an ad for Mary Kay than advice from a surgeon:

My patients were able to try the Mary Kay products before they purchased them from an Independent Beauty Consultant with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Like me and my patients, these consultants want to build a life-long relationship with their clients. I was impressed with their training and support for customer service. I knew that I could trust my reputation and my patients with Mary Kay consultants.

My first thought was, training? What training? Then I began to wonder, what consultant does he refer them to for skin care products? Does he “just happen” to have the stuff in the office to sell?

When his wife, Eileen Barlow, burbled happily in a unit newsletter, “I just wish we could sell it at our office. Mark and his esthetician will just have to send his patients to me,” it answered a couple of questions, but it made me start wondering about informed consent, conflict of interest, and medical ethics. Does Dr. Mark Barlow tell his patients that his wife, Eileen, is a Mary Kay consultant and director? The letter does not mention her.

It makes me wonder how impartial Dr. Mark Barlow’s advice to his patients can be when he stands to financially benefit from his wife’s sales to (and possible recruiting of) his patients. If he sends them to buy from her well-stocked wagon, he improves his chances of going on those “all expenses paid Top Director trips,” and his household enjoys all those goodies Mary Kay corporation lavishes on the elite few.

Am I holding Dr. Barlow to too high a standard?  I don’t think so. The Texas Medical Ethics code  is quite clear on the subject:

“… , a physician should not be influenced in the prescribing of drugs, devices, or appliances by a direct or indirect financial interest in a pharmaceutical firm or other supplier. Whether the firm is a manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler, or repackager of the products involved is immaterial. Reputable firms rely on quality and efficacy to sell their products under competitive circumstances and do not appeal to physicians to have financial involvements with the firm in order to influence their prescribing.”

The potential for “conflict of interest” when the relationship between a physician and a supplier of goods involves gifts is serious enough that medical schools and medical centers are beginning to ban any and all  drug company trinkets: down to the pens, pencils, and notepads with drug company logos on them. Mary Kay products may not be the exact same thing as something he “prescribes,” yet the financial conflict of interest is clearly the same.

I wonder what they would think about a pharmaceutical sales rep who was dangling cruises and free use of luxury cars in front of a doctor to encourage him to recommend the company’s pills?

3 Comments

  1. Peggy

    Maybe you should ask the question, ‘Why Mary Kay products over anything else he could get to be sold out of his office (whether by his wife or any other rep of any other product)?” Do you think it could be because he likes the science behind the product over other products? He could sell anything and he chooses Mary Kay. For a doctor who is literally a ‘rocket scientist’ (having had a science project go up into space), he knows a bit more about the science of products that I do.

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