Maryland psychiatrist Daniel Smithpeter suspended for sexual contact with patient

June 12, 2012

SALISBURY -- The Maryland Board of Physicians accused Daniel Smithpeter, a Salisbury psychiatrist, of having a sexual relationship with a patient in June 2010.

Nearly 18 months later, the board took action, suspending his medical license for a year and placing him under probation for another two. For several months leading up to the decision, though, Smithpeter was paid more than $30,000 to promote an international pharmaceutical company's drugs to his peers.

Switzerland-based Novartis "is not currently working with" Smithpeter, the company said in an email to The Daily Times. A speaking engagement in November that paid him $3,021 was his last.

Smithpeter, who denies the charges, has appealed his case. Outside the courtroom, though, his scenario undercuts drug companies' claims that they hire the most respected doctors to educate fellow physicians about their products.

He isn't alone. A 2010 investigation by Pro Publica, a nonprofit news service, revealed hundreds of doctors nationwide who received big speaking fees despite having also received disciplinary action by state boards or having a lack of credentials in the field.

"There really are not regulations in place regulating the quality of the speakers," said Daniel Carlat, a Tufts Medical School psychiatry professor and an advocate for more transparency in the relationship between doctors and drug companies.

Those companies used to target doctors affiliated with major medical schools, usually in the Ivy League. But many schools have severely curtailed the practice, citing concerns about the financial ties creating conflicts of interest, Carlat said.

"It's getting harder for drug companies to find the truly highly qualified researchers, so you're hearing stories of doctors giving these talks who aren't affiliated with any academic medical centers or in some cases have gotten in trouble with their medical boards," he said.

Smithpeter, a 1992 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, founded the psychiatric clinic Delmarva Family Resources. In 2004, according to state documents, he began to engage in what the board called "sexual misconduct" with an unnamed female patient during her visits.

Marc Cohen, Smithpeter's attorney, said the woman, who regularly saw Smithpeter only to discuss her medication, concocted the story to cover for missing appointments and getting booted from the clinic. She was in a custody battle at the time.

The case is scheduled to go before a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge on June 18.

Source: Jeremy Cox, "Doctor facing suspension was paid to speak," Delmarva Now! (Gannett News), June 10, 2012.


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