Dr. Pietr Hitzig -- Baltimore's internationally known Internet diet doctor -- was accused yesterday of having sex with patients, handing out pills indiscriminately, and flouting standards of medical conduct during social flings with those he treated.
Maryland's physician board, which brought the claims and has ordered Hitzig to a February hearing, describe the Harvard-educated doctor's conduct as among the worst it has ever investigated. One patient died under his care from "drug intoxication" and another committed suicide in the driveway of his home, the board said in a 60-page report.
"It's one of the most serious cases I've dealt with," said Michael Compton, the executive director of the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance. Hitzig's medical license could be revoked.
Hitzig denies any misconduct.
"This report they've published has all the pornographic qualities of Ken Starr, but without decent reporting," Hitzig, 56, said of the physician board's report. "They sent out thousands and thousands of questionnaires, fishing for something to write about. There are half-truths and innuendoes throughout the entire document."
The board depicts Hitzig as a whirlwind social butterfly whose personal relationships are often intertwined with his medical practice, with female patients reporting that they have been invited to the doctor's home, to dine with him, and to have sexual encounters with him.
Among the allegations are that he once threw a female patient on the floor of his Timonium office and had sex with her after a night of drinking at a nearby restaurant. Another female patient told of Hitzig stripping naked during a visit to her home and jumping in her pool, an act he doesn't deny.
The bizarre stories are the most damaging to surface yet against the doctor, who for nearly 14 months has been under investigation by federal drug agents for running a controversial telemedicine practice online.
That investigation, still ongoing and separate from the physician board's, focuses on his prescribing medication to Internet clients around the world that Hitzig admits he never physically examined. Federal prosecutors say it is the first case of its type in the country.
He calls charges groundless
Hitzig called both investigations groundless yesterday and accused investigators of trying to hunt up incriminating evidence to thwart what he calls a novel approach to treating obesity, depression, and other "mental imbalances."
Specifically, he denied that he attacked a woman in his Timonium office but he admitted that he went swimming in the nude at another patient's pool.
"As if this is some terrible thing," he said, sitting at a desk in his Charles Street office that had numerous jars and cups of pink and orange pills lying around a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. "It was a hot summer day. We're very close friends. They were all inside the house, and I didn't have a bathing suit. I went out and did a quick skinny dip."
He said he plans to fight the charges at the upcoming hearing and will keep his practice running in the meantime, saying he treats about 300 people for ailments ranging from hay fever to Lou Gehrig's disease.
Hitzig once touted himself as the "father of fen-phen," the diet drug combination that was pulled off the market by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after a study linked it to heart damage. He has moved on to a new drug combination called "phen4, the next generation."
But the physician board claims that Hitzig is known by both patients and employees as someone who liberally passes out free "pills" to patients without examining them, takes pills and drinks alcohol in front of his patients, and has offered fen-phen to his neighbors and his apartment manager.
The report also described him as having a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality, sometimes verbally abusing his patients and employees, other times professing his love for them, kissing and fondling them.
The charging document describes questionable practices involving 17 patients -- eight of whom later became his employees. Compton, of the physician board, said the board will evaluate whether Hitzig's employment of patients is unethical conduct. He said the board will have to decide if the doctor "is exploiting the patient."
Complaints of abuse
Among the complainants is one patient who went to work in his office and reported that the doctor began unzipping her clothing while she worked at a computer. The doctor attempted to have sex with the woman, but she refused, she said in the report.
Another patient's husband died in June 1998 after overdosing on phentermine, prescribed by Hitzig. The board's report noted that the state's medical examiner found the man's cause of death was "drug [phentermine] intoxication."
He also is accused in several instances of telling his patients to stop taking medications prescribed by other doctors.
Hitzig attributed the stories of the patients who were interviewed as "fantasies" made up by troubled people who he tried to help.
"Many of the testings of these patients show a high level of psychoticism," he said. "They come from their own world of fantasy. If you run a fishing expedition into someone who's had as many patients as I've had, you'll always be able to find disgruntled people."
Death in the driveway
In one of the more chilling passages of the board's report, investigators questioned Hitzig's relationship with a patient being treated for cocaine addiction. The patient, a man in financial trouble, was hired by Hitzig as a "caretaker" at the doctor's home in Monkton in 1994.
Four months after the man gave a testimonial to other patients on the success of Hitzig's treatment, the man commited suicide in the doctor's driveway. A postmortem report showed he had alcohol and cocaine in his blood when he died.
Hitzig denied that his actions had anything to do with the man's death and questioned why the episode was included in the report.
"In one sense, I'm relieved," he said. "They [the physician board] worked for two years, spent God knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and came up with a mishmash of nothing. It's full of many factual errors."
Pub Date: 12/09/98