Practices Worth A Lot
I’m aware my comments might seem insulting to a group of hospitalists who have worked long and hard for several years to build what they think is a great practice. Surely it’s worth something.
Maybe your practice really does have significant value over and above the salaries the doctors earn. Perhaps you have developed proprietary operational processes that are particularly valuable and would be difficult for others to replicate without knowing your “trade secrets.” These could include things such as particularly effective ways to document, code, and collect professional fees; methods to enhance hospitalist efficiency and/or quality; unusually effective recruitment strategies; or even the ability to negotiate highly favorable contracts with payers.
Even if your practice does have remarkably effective proprietary components, you still would have to convince a buyer these valuable assets would persist after the change in ownership and the departure of key individuals. For example, you might have the best practice in the country because you’ve been able to recruit the best doctors. If I buy your practice and those excellent doctors leave, I’ve lost the unique asset that was key to the practice’s value.
Clearly there is room for a lot of debate about hospitalist practice valuation. (Search the Internet for “medical practice valuation” for a number of good articles about this.) There are many practice management companies that rely on the notion that their ideas and operations provide greater value than other practices. One such company, IPC, had a successful initial public offering of stock that found a marketplace willing to pay for its perceived value. But keep in mind that this company has many practices in many states, and much of the value may lie in the fact that the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So, unless your practice is huge and has sites in many states, I don’t think you can assume IPC’s public offering means your practice might have a similar value.
Think critically about your practice. Challenge yourself to think about what you would pay for your practice and what you would get in return. If you have a hard time coming up with clear reasons your practice has significant intangible value, you should probably avoid structuring a buy-in for new doctors or a buy-out for departing doctors. TH
Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988 and is co-founder and past president of SHM. He is a principal in Nelson/Flores Associates, a national hospitalist practice management consulting firm. He is also part of the faculty for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. This column represents his views and is not intended to reflect an official position of SHM.