Fake doctor «treated» patients for five years

The final act of a story, which shocked the medical community, took place last week as the Harju county court gave Igor Smirnov (31) a five-year suspended prison sentence, yet he is free again since yesterday.

The final act of a story, which shocked the medical community, took place last week as the Harju county court gave Igor Smirnov (31) a five-year suspended prison sentence, yet he is free again since yesterday - postimees.ee.

«Doctor» Smirnov, who practiced in Tallinn, Pärnu and Kiviõli, was a jack-of-all-trades – from drawing blood from vein to psychiatric counseling and drafting a plan for the treatment of tumors. His pharmacy kit included pills against nausea caused by chemical treatment.

An unusually universal medic, as said Northern district prosecutor Silvia Kruusmaa. «A regular physician would refuse to treat all complaints and would direct the patient to other specialists,» she said.

Smirnov, who rented an apartment in the Järve district of Tallinn and received patients there is not entirely ignorant of medicine. The cum laude diploma of the University of Tartu medical faculty, which decorated his wall, was a forgery, yet the man has been trained as radiologist.

According to changed, he provided various medical services without a license and sold drugs in 2011-2016 to at least a dozen patients.

«Since he also took cash payments for his services, we cannot rule out that he had actually more clients than we could identify,» the prosecutor admitted.

A rare case

As to all patients, hundreds of individual crime episodes were identified, for which Smirnov received at least 37,000 euros.

He found his patients thanks to the word of mouth. Previous clients recommended him to acquaintances. For example, the fake doctor took care for an entire three-member family.

The «universal nature” of the fraudster was one of the reasons why patients remained loyal to him. They hoped that one man could relieve all their health problems. Smirnov managed to create an account at a real physician's mail address and received authority to take analyzes to a laboratory and to receive answers. He ordered his drugs from the Internet and also sold pharmacy products prescribed to himself.

Pille Ilves, the head of the Estonian Patient Advocacy Association, said that she had never before encountered such a case. «If someone is wearing a white coat, regular citizens already look up at them. Venerating medics has not disappeared anywhere. Physicians are trusted, especially if they are good communicators,» she said.

The case also concerned Lembi Aug, president of the Estonian Medical Association, who said that the association has been mainly concerned with more through checking of foreign medics' background. «We really did not expect a forgery of a University of Tartu diploma,» she said.

According to Aug, many people are susceptible to advertisements, recommendations over social media and to alternative medicine trends if these promise certain cure, which scientific medicine can never promise. «People often fear that their health records will become public and hope that private medicine can offer greater privacy,» she said.

Prosecutor Kruusmaa regretted that people were so careless about their health by trusting their treatment to someone whose real skills they knew nothing about. «On the other hand, Igor Smirnov had made through preparations starting from the forgery of university diploma and ending with the possession of various medical equipment, which must have increased the patients' trust,» she said.

The prosecutor pointed out that by checking the physician's code over the Internet, for example at the homepage of the Health Board, they could have easily found out that the person had no eight to treat patients.

According to the prosecutor's office, the fraudulent doctor's activity went unnoticed for five years until the man became bold enough to take a blood sample in a public cafe. A visitor who witnessed this called the police.

Expressed regret

Detectives of the Norther prefecture's criminal police searched last summer Smirnov's apartment and seized a large quantity of narcotic and psychotropic substances. The prosecutor wondered how the man was not discouraged by the criminal investigation and he continued his «treatment» even after having been interrogated by the police. Therefore he was arrested late last year.

Last week the Harju county court found Smirnov guilty in plea bargain and he received a five-year prison sentence, out of which had to spend six months in jail. The term expired yesterday and he was released on condition that he will not commit further crimes during the five-year probation period.

Smirnov was found guilty of providing medical services without license, identity theft, forgery of document and using the same, possession and sale of narcotic and psychotropic substances and influencing individuals to give false evidence.

The prosecutor was satisfied with the sentence. «We managed to confiscate more than 40,00 euros. If he should commit another crime during probation, he will be locked up for four and a half years,» Kruusmaa said.

Read other news on the city site of Tallinn.

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