Just about every online news story enables readers to add comments at the end of the coverage. It's really wonderful to have this means of voicing our opinions and reactions to things that go on around us. It enhances our desire to belong, feel connected and—most importantly—help one another. This is a new kind of journalism; one that is interactive.
To a degree, responses often mimic the type of news reported, in terms of substance and energy. When a topic is upbeat, intriguing, beguiling, etc., the posts are likely to match in spirit.
For example, comments posted to a recent article in response to how the space station offers clues about dark matter in the universe build upon the article's information by offering additional tidbits, asking questions, stimulating thought, sharing knowledge and insight, and fully engaging one another in relevant, meaningful dialogue.
On the other hand, there are many more news reports that stimulate anxiety and fear. The posts attached to these reports are bursting with the need to emote—actually, to scream out with fear or anger in response.
Here's an example close to home: Last month, Dr. Scott Harrington's oral and facial surgery practice, in Tulsa and Owasso, OK, was shut down for "violations of health and safety laws and major violations of the State Dental Act," according to the Tulsa Health Department and the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry lodged a 17-count complaint against Harrington claiming, among other things, that he used rusty instruments (that had been bleached causing them to become porous and, therefore, not able to be properly sterilized) in patients known to have infectious diseases, used expired medications—some dating back 20 years—on patients and allowed his assistants to administer IV sedation without permits.
Since none of Harrington's assistants spoke up, apparently unaware that their infection control procedures were improper, reporters called the case "a perfect storm." As a result, one patient so far has been infected with hepatitis C and 7,000 additional patients were notified that it's highly advisable they get tested for hepatitis C and HIV.
In the comments section following numerous online news reports, there are—and with good reason—a lot of screams: many of the posts are from Harrington's patients. Clearly people are frightened. I'm guessing these patients appreciate hearing one another's reactions, experiences and outrage. I imagine they gained a modicum of strength from one another.
I looked for, but didn't find, many posts from dental practitioners who could publicly reassure patients that this kind of infraction is very rare. I thought, in particular, that this was a perfect opportunity for Tulsa- and Owasso-area dentists to educate the community about what to observe in a dental office when evaluating its cleanliness and safety procedures. Unfortunately, many of these dentists probably referred their patients to Harrington for surgery; that could easily explain why they didn't speak up--they too, were surprised and shocked by what was discovered.
For the most part, we—the dental community—are pretty good at policing ourselves; if someone's behavior or procedures are out of whack with what we generally know to be safe, there's a good chance someone will speak up. And there is ample opportunity to speak up.
It's been a long time coming but, in recent years, the dental laboratory community has come into the public awareness and has gotten a lot of positive exposure. More people than ever before now know what dental technicians do. Once in a while, a dental laboratory is featured in newspapers. This is great!
The next time I become aware of such a story, I'll check to see if the article is also featured online. Then I'll jump right into that comment box with happy screams about our industry to add value to the public's knowledge and awareness of us. Hopefully you will, too.
P.S. It was two years ago this May that we first introduced The BRIDGE at LMTmag.com. With close to 12,000 industry personnel now signed up, we are thrilled with the level of participation and quality of the posts and photos being shared. We love your spirit, your resilience and best of all, your engagement with one another, making us very, very proud to be members of this great community of people.