City success

London-based dentist Keith Burns outlines his achievements and explains how he combines outstanding clinical care in a fresh and modern environment

Ambition and risk are two words synonymous with Keith Burns. With an eye for potential and a whole lot of determination, this award-winning dentist has the drive which sets him apart from the rest.

Educated in Ireland, Keith came to study dentistry in the UK and graduated from Sheffield in 1999. ‘I immediately moved to London and did my VT on the Kingston scheme,’ he explains. ‘I decided very quickly that NHS dentistry was not for me. I worked in private dentistry in the city for a few years before starting the process of setting up a squat practice, Metrodental, in the city of London in 2003 – the youngest dentist ever to have a practice in the city!’

Through sheer hard work Metrodental grew rapidly and Keith opened a second site in 2010. ‘I sold the business to a non-dentist in June 2013. I took a little time off and then opened my new venture in March 2014.’

What made Keith choose dentistry? ‘I had an interest in all science subjects in school but I knew I did not want to work in a lab or do medicine,’ he answers. ‘I love people; talking, interacting and learning about them and from them. I was also very creative at school talking art as a subject. Dentistry seemed like a good choice. I am very grateful I made such a good decision at such a young age with little or no guidance.’

The vision

Keith Burns Associates was set up after he sold Metrodental. ‘I wanted a more boutique feel as the previous practices had become more corporate due to their size. Suzanne, the practice manager at Metrodental, came on board and helped me set the new practice up. The architect and project manager I knew by recommendation.’

‘I had set up two squat practices so I knew the process involved. I hired an agent to find the premises, which was an empty shell. He also helped negotiate rent and the rent-free period. I wanted clean lines and a working environment that was very modern and easy to maintain. The size of each room and layout was very important as I have learnt by my mistakes. I also wanted a very good A/C system which is very helpful at keeping you cool when something gets a little tricky!’

‘Working very closely with the team at Henry Schein, who were excellent and worked very well alongside my architect, we waited for the change of use on the building. Initially we fitted out two surgeries with capacity for five on my business plan. The other rooms had all the services laid ready to go for when we were ready to expand. I have ended up with exactly what I wanted due to meticulous planning,’ says Keith.

Day-to-day practice

With such a busy schedule, it is imperative that Keith’s day is well planned. ‘I arrive at work at 8am after finishing at the gym and I’ll have a quick debrief with my nurse/associate/specialist on that day followed by a chat with Suzanne,’ explains Keith. ‘We are very much an email-based practice, with most new patient’s initial enquires coming through our website. It’s very important for me to know exactly where new patients are coming from so we go through each one.’

‘Suzanne has set up varies spreadsheets on different aspects of the business which we look at every morning (hygiene, turnover, new patients etc). The first patient is seen at 8.30am working through to 1pm.’ Keith explains that he always tries to pop out in between patients to check if any problems have occurred during the morning.

‘I always try and leave the practice during my lunch hour where I go home and walk my dogs. It’s great downtime especially if I’ve had a busy morning. I’m back at 2pm and work through until 5.30pm. For the next half hour, we complete all the end of day tasks and I have a short round up 15-minute meeting with Suzanne.’

So, has Keith learnt any lessons since opening the new practice? ‘Being flat out and busy does not mean a higher turnover,’ he answers. ‘With this practice I have taken a step back and slowed down by passing some existing patients to my associate. A fresh set of eyes can result in new treatment options or ideas being discussed with the patient. I can spend more time on new patients introducing them to how our practice works.’

‘The most enjoyable aspects of my job are working as a multidisciplinary team with all the specialists under the same roof. I’ve worked like this for many years in both practices. I feel I’m offering my patients the very best dentistry can offer being as conservative as possible.’

And what does he find least enjoyable? ‘Dealing with patients who don’t respect your time and work practices,’ he replies. ‘It’s frustrating when you don’t see an improvement with them. It happens rarely but sometimes patients don’t care about their dental health and what we do for them. No level of dental education or effort on our part will change that. The city patient can be a tough nut to crack sometimes!’

Patient communication is an integral and essential part of Keith’s practice life. ‘I try to explain things as simply as possible. I use the patient communicator from the R4 system as I feel patients remember things visually rather than hearing them.’ Keith also cites his intraoral camera as his most important communication tool.

‘When a patient sees a caries cavity or thick lingual calculus they remember it! At the end of a session I always ask if they have understood everything and if they have any questions.’

Getting the word out

Marketing the practice comes in many forms for Keith. ‘I employ someone part-time to deal directly with the HR departments of the big companies in the city,’ he says. ‘We offer discounts on certain procedures including the first consultation and hygiene appointments. I also have a Google pay-per-click campaign which I’m reducing as we move up the ranking organically.’
‘Initially when we first opened we had a leaflet campaign. We have very close relationships with all the big corporate dental insurance companies with regular conversations keeping them updated on the practice’s progress. All new patients are asked how they found out about the practice which is a useful tool when analysing what marketing is working best.’

Personal decisions

What are Keith’s best decisions and with hindsight, would he have done anything differently? ‘The layout of the surgeries and the equipment has probably been my best decision,’ he says. ‘I love my Nomad X-ray machine and we are placing a digital OPT machine in the next few months which we have planned the space for.’

‘My only regret is not putting in the staff shower room/toilet downstairs which was in our original plan but we never did as I had a budget which I stuck to rigidly on the original fit out. It just means the staff would have had more privacy and the girls would have somewhere to get ready before a night out!’

Staying abreast of modern techniques and procedures is a crucial part of personal development for Keith. ‘I obviously go to conferences that interest me, but to be honest, sites like MyCPD Zone and Dentinal Tubules fit in more with how my life works.’

‘The forums are great with people sharing real life situations. You can ask and receive questions which for me is invaluable. I do feel at conferences you only see the best of people’s work. Forums help you realise that everyone experiences problems and they help you sometimes to approach situations differently.’

When asked what he is professionally most proud of, Keith mentions the building of a good well organised dental team from scratch. ‘It’s important to have the ability to see people’s strengths and weaknesses and helping them realise their potential within the dental team,’ he explains. ‘I also relish seeing patients turn from nervous distrusting patients to well maintained motivated patients who love coming to the dentist,’ he adds.

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