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‘Lyme-literate’ doctor in Illinois, Iowa faces fresh allegations

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 9:57 a.m. CST

(MCT) — CHICAGO — A former Joliet, Ill., surgeon who reinvented himself as a “Lyme-literate” physician after Iowa medical authorities charged him with professional incompetence is now facing allegations of misconduct related to his new practice.

The Iowa Board of Medicine is pursing formal disciplinary charges against Dr. Jeffrey Piccirillo, 50, who practices in northwest suburban Lake in the Hills and in Grinnell, Iowa. The charges allege professional incompetence, “practice harmful or detrimental to the public,” sexual misconduct and unethical or unprofessional conduct.

The board, in charges filed in September, alleges that Piccirillo failed to provide appropriate care to numerous patients who were diagnosed with Lyme disease and that he engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female Illinois patient.

The female patient said she also contacted the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation about Piccirillo.

Agency spokeswoman Sue Hofer said agency policy restricts her from confirming or denying whether it had received a report or is investigating.

In the previous case, the Iowa medical board alleged that Piccirillo had demonstrated “a pattern of professional incompetency” and “practice harmful or detrimental to the public.” Piccirillo, who moved to Iowa in 2004, entered into a settlement agreement with the board in February 2009.

Piccirillo, who is licensed in Iowa and Illinois, received a public reprimand and was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. He also was prohibited from practicing surgery, ordered to complete a board-approved mental health assessment, required to submit to psychiatric care and mental health counseling, and placed on indefinite probation subject to board monitoring.

Because of the Iowa sanctions, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation also put him on indefinite probation.

Since then, Piccirillo has been diagnosing and treating patients for a form of Lyme disease that some medical authorities, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Neurology, have concluded does not exist.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection primarily transmitted by deer ticks that can cause rashes, swollen joints and inflamed nerves. It usually is curable with a round of antibiotics.

But a group of doctors, including Piccirillo, has told patients with common problems such as back pain, poor concentration and fatigue that their ailments might be caused by a chronic form of Lyme disease that can evade standard testing and treatment. The doctors describe themselves as “Lyme-literate.” These patients sometimes are treated for months or years with antibiotics that can be costly and dangerous.

Piccirillo declined to comment and referred calls to his attorney, who was not available to discuss the charges.

In an email to the Chicago Tribune last year, Piccirillo wrote that he was a “Lyme disease survivor” and that he was dedicated to the care of Lyme patients, treating dozens of patients weekly, many for Lyme. He said he became infected with the disease in 2006.

In his email, Piccirillo wrote that his disciplinary issues were in the past.

“The matters you address are prior to the beginning of my practice,” he wrote. “I have trained hard in the area of Lyme disease to provide the type of care I hope to perfect over time. ... I aspire to be a better care provider than I ever was in my previous work.”

In its statement about the new charges, the Iowa medical board alleged that Piccirillo diagnosed and treated patients for Lyme disease even though they did not meet the criteria for laboratory diagnosis of Lyme disease recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The statement said Piccirillo “treated patients for Lyme disease with long-term intravenous antibiotics despite the fact that such treatment is not recognized by the CDC or the medical literature and such treatment does not conform to the minimal standard of acceptable and prevailing practice of medicine and surgery in the state of Iowa.”

Piccirillo also is accused of engaging in a sexual relationship with a female patient, whom he reportedly forced to perform a sex act and to whom he reportedly sent sexually explicit photos. He also is alleged to have shared patients’ confidential health care information with her.

That woman, the Tribune learned, is from Illinois and said she suffered from Lyme disease.

“He made me feel like I had to do these things to keep getting treated,” she said in an interview.

When Iowa authorities disciplined Piccirillo in 2009, they warned him that additional charges could lead to revocation of his license. A hearing on the latest charges has been scheduled for February.

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