By Donna Domino, DrBicuspid.com features editor

August 29, 2011 -- A California pediatric dentist says he is being unfairly accused of mistreating a patient by an angry parent who created a Facebook page to attack him following the extraction of his young son's tooth.

The page, which attracted more than 200 members in its first 48 hours, illustrates the power of social media and its potential to do harm as well as good.

Chris Cook of Bakersfield, CA, created the "I Hate Dr. Dove of Bakersfield" page last week, claiming that pediatric dentist Edward Dove, DDS, extracted his 5-year-old son's tooth on August 22 without anesthesia. Cook also claims his son vomited, screamed, and urinated on himself while being held down by several assistants during the procedure.

Dr. Dove -- who is well-known in Bakersfield and has three other offices in California -- denied the allegations of improper treatment. He told DrBicuspid.com that he performed multiple pulpotomies and crowns on the same child last December, without complaints from the parents.

Cook brought his son back to Dr. Dove for additional treatment on August 22. Contrary to Cook's allegations, Dr. Dove said he gave the boy Vistaril and Versed orally via a medicine dropper, followed by a full carpule of 4% Septocaine via injection, prior to performing the extraction.

"I absolutely tested to ensure that he was numb," Dr. Dove told DrBicuspid.com. "I always do that for extractions. This was not a difficult extraction, and the kid was fine."

Cook could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Dove has no record of disciplinary actions, but he acknowledged that there have been complaints during his 23 years in practice. They have all been dismissed by the Dental Board of California, he said.

Dr. Dove denies the other accusations posted on Cook's Facebook page. And according to his office manager, Rachel Pufahl, only three of the people who posted complaints as of August 26 were actually patients of Dr. Dove.

One supporter, Adam Vinson, posted, "Dr. Dove is my children's dentist and does a fabulous job. This page is a joke," but he was quickly derided by other Facebook posters.

The dispute underscores how quickly consumers can mobilize online and the growing impact of such sites on dentists' reputations. It also shows how powerless dentists and other professionals can be in responding to online complaints.

Patients have been calling Dr. Dove about the Facebook posts, he said, but so far only one person has cancelled.

"I think my reputation will be hurt a little bit, but right now I just want to calm down," Dr. Dove said. "This guy is going ballistic, he's trying to smear me, and I'm getting bullied."

Damage control

Jason Lipscomb, DDS, a private practice dentist in Virginia who lectures and blogs regularly about social media, warned that this situation could happen to any dentist.

“I think my reputation will be hurt a little bit.”
— Edward Dove, DDS

"The way the marketplace is set up, anybody can set up a Facebook page and they're immediately empowered," he told DrBicuspid.com. "A lot of dentists have their head in the sand and think this can't happen to them. You have to have an online presence and do damage control immediately."

If a problem with a patient crops up, Dr. Lipscomb advises dentists to address it personally, noting that many complaints can be resolved through a phone call. Difficult situations can be turned around, to the dentist's benefit, if they are handled promptly and correctly, he noted.

"People who are complaining can be your biggest champion if they feel you've listened to them," he said. "But this guy obviously didn't think his concerns were being addressed."

Companies such as reputation.com and Smile Reminder provide tools to help practices manage their "webutations." This sort of service might be a good idea for Dr. Dove, Dr. Lipscomb said, given that the story is now being picked up by national news organizations.

"If he doesn't think this is going to affect his reputation, I think he's mistaken," he said. "His name will now automatically get hundreds of hits linked to the story."

Dr. Dove has been unable to respond to the criticisms directly on Facebook because members must be approved by the site's creator, and so far he has not received approval.

Dr. Dove's predicament is a "perfect storm," Dr. Lipscomb said. "You have to kind of become a public relations person. It's very tricky," he said. "It's very easy for that tipping point to go 100% the other way."

Defamation hard to prove

Edwin Zinman, DDS, JDS, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in dental law, says dentists have successfully filed defamation suits related to Internet content, but it can be hard to prove.

"One thing is fact, the other is opinion," he told DrBicuspid.com. "Some courts have found Internet content to be privileged commentary, and dentists have lost where it is ruled to be opinion, which patients are entitled to have."

In 2009, another California dentist filed a lawsuit against the parents of a young patient after the father posted a negative review on Yelp.com. Yvonne Wong, DDS, of Foster City claimed that the review defamed her by implying that she didn't inform the boy's parents about alternatives to the use of amalgam and nitrous oxide. Yelp also was named in the suit.

After a judge initially ruled that the case had sufficient legal merit to be tried, the case went to an appellate court, which found that consumers can post reviews of businesses on websites such as Yelp.com because they contribute to public discussion about controversial issues such as the use of dental amalgam.

While defamation claims against Yelp and the child's mother have been dismissed, the suit against the child's father is still pending in Santa Clara Superior Court. However, in May, Dr. Wong was ordered to pay the defendants more than $80,000 in attorney fees.

In Dr. Dove's case, an attorney could contact Cook and notify him that unless the page is removed, Dr. Dove could sue for defamation, Dr. Zinman said. He also advised Dr. Dove to talk to professional organizations such as the ADA, the California Dental Association, or the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Both cases illustrate the power of social media and the impact it can have on small businesses.

"He [Dr. Dove] probably had no idea it would come to this," Dr. Lipscomb said. "I know he's doing everything in his power to do the right thing, but he's just being railroaded."

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Copyright © 2011 DrBicuspid.com

Last Updated kk 8/29/2011 1:57:14 PM

22 comments so far ...
8/29/2011 11:54:07 AM
HairyBikini
Curious as to the information Jason Lipscomb got on the complaints started by the Cook family that got this issue to go viral. Reason being there have been complaints that stint back to 2010 that sound very similar. This article seemed very bias, and a call to all the dentist to "circle the wagons" rather then to inquire and see if there is any validity to the claims. I say if Dr. Dove has a defamation case, to go forward with it! A large number of parents are hoping to see this, and are not worried in the slightest. Your article is also going viral on the net, and many are sharing the same views that you will protect your own over a child. The comments coming from Dr. Dove are anything but compassionate. You would think the first concern he would have would be the child. 

8/29/2011 12:05:21 PM
S. Bornfeld
Obviously this problem of being slammed on social networking sites is only going to get bigger.  I have been myself (though in a very minor way), and it does create a feeling of vulnerability to random attacks.
One of the comments on the FB page have already asked if Dove violated HIPAA by releasing clinical information.
As far as one's rights in the face of "cyberstalking", maybe some of you saw the following in Saturday's NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/27/technology/man-accused-of-stalking-via-twitter-claims-free-speech.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=twitter&st=cse



8/29/2011 12:08:13 PM
moviestarsmiles
I had a similar experience on Yelp.  One patient made a complaint, not even about the treatment, and gave me one star.  I don't know how long this was the case before I even heard about Yelp.  Yelp tried to get me to buy "placement" in their listing at several hundred dollars a month.  I refused.  The evaluation is still there, and all my good revues have been "filtered".  The patient was angry about having to make his co-payment.  I don't know what to do now.

8/29/2011 12:13:30 PM
peddent
I posted on this once before for a similar topic where the Dr had to pay 80,000 dollars in legal fees. I think once a pt opens up a public forum like an online comment naming names, all restrictions on the provider should be removed (HIPPA and any other privacy act). This would allow the provider to respond and state facts about the case without having to worry about being out of compliance. This type of pt tends to be  a coward and hides behind a faceless internet terminal. Trying to call them and sort things out most likely won't work and if you do address their demands no guarantee they will remove the post. As far as the ADA don't hold your breath as it becomes a 1st amendment issue with freedom of speech and that people are entitled to an opinion, ADA won't touch it. The providers only response is to fight for their 1st amendment rights where they can defend themselves in a public forum. I feel though that real progress will not be made until online posting providers (Facebook, Angie's list, yelp ect) are held accountable for misinformation or better yet that no comments of any medical provider can be posted because the provider is at a disadvantage and cannot respond without fear of privacy compliance issues.

8/29/2011 12:21:30 PM
restless
This ability of people to post whatever they want on social networking sites or places like angieslist is troubling. I've seen some hotel comments made by guests and they can be wildly different...some rate highly, others trash. Same with books, you name it... Health care isn't really any different and even if you're the greatest practitioner, some people are going to grouse about you. We have a society that is made up of complainers who seem to think things always have to meet their expectations, even when they are unreasonable. I'm sure any dentist who's been practicing for awhile has at least a few complaints to the dental board, etc. I've had two, both dismissed. Sometimes a complaint can be helpful...such as a "suggestion box" as to how to change something. These people who feel the need to air their grievances on Facebook, etc. seem to more concerned with retaliation for what is often a minor issue. Patients often blow things out of proportion, unfortunately. Perhaps they'd be happier when there are few dentists to kick around!